12.28.2010

Knee-jerk review: "Black Swan"

1. Layered and complex. Nicely done.
2. There's a definite sense of dread hanging over the movie. You're always halfway expecting something bad to happen in even the most everyday scenes.
3. Strange fixation with injured fingernails and toenails. Discuss the significance amongst yourselves.
4. It's almost Polanskian in the way we're never sure what's really happening and what's only a fantasy. Creepy and unsettling.
5. We always respond to a movie that provides a glimpse into an exotic professional world. And this certainly feels like an authentic look at the pressure-cooker life of a prestigious ballet company.
6. Natalie Portman's getting Oscar buzz for her performance and we get that. She does a good job in the kind of showy, dynamic role (i.e. scenes where she screams in anger, scenes where she trembles in fear, scenes where she sobs in agony) that Oscar voters love. But we still find her cold and remote. Sorry.
7. Mila Kunis, on the other hand, is a knockout. She's completely magnetic and beguiling. A long way from "That 70s Show."
8. We like the way the film slowly, subtly reveals that something may not be quite right with Portman's relationship to her mother.
9. There's some very complex ideas at work here about art. What sacrifices are necessary in pursuing art? Is there more to art than just technical proficiency? Do you also need emotion and unpredictability? Are genius artists also by definition volatile and crazy? Is there such a thing as artistic perfection?
10. No, we didn't know what "Swan Lake" was about until we saw this movie.
11. Vincent Cassell is predictably oily and untrustworthy.
12. You because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not really out to get you.
13. It's good, yes. Complicated and ambitious in ways so many movies simply aren't. But The Wrestler is still our favorite Darren Aronofsky film.

Ranking holiday mixed nuts

1. Cashew - We wouldn't trust anyone who didn't like cashews.
2. Almond - A close tie with the cashew. There's something so aerodynamic about its shape. Like a salty little bullet.
3. Macadamia - Because it's exotic and oddly soft to chew.
4. Pecan - We love pecans, but we have to deduct points because you can find them just about anywhere.
5. Brazil - If we ran a mixed nut empire, we'd never include this nut. We'd starve the Brazil nut people right out of business. Does anyone honestly like this thing?

12.23.2010

Have a Hyundai Christmas

Amid the brightly-colored noise of holiday ads pushing two-day sales and zero-percent-financing comes a beguiling series of spots from Hyundai. We thought there was something weirdly intriguing about the two musicians in the commercials, especially the female singer's beatific, wide-eyed serenity. If only we could attain such a look of sedated bliss. A quick check of Google confirms that these are no actors, but in fact members of a Southern California indie band called Pomplamoose. Where do they come up with these names?



12.21.2010

Our five greatest flag football moments

The Cheese Fry spent its early 30s in an almost weekly quest to cause bodily injury in a pathetic attempt to recapture lost youth by pretending to be a football player. Even with the flags and a no-tackle rule, these Culver City-Santa Monica-based contests were brutal. Players went to the hospital, broke bones, suffered permanent disfigurement, and endured a week of Advil consumption to recover for the next weekend contest. At one point we were wearing not one, but two knee braces.

If there were a highlight tape of the Cheese Fry's greatest moments, this is what would be included:

1. The Mud Bowl. Imagine a soggy soccer field, more puddles than mud. Imagine pouring rain. Imagine players wearing heavy, stretched, wet clothes streaked with mud. Now imagine the Cheese Fry as the only player wearing cleats. It was an afternoon that made us feel like Barry Sanders, planting and cutting, juking and jiving. You can't catch me not because I'm good, but because you're stuck in flat-soled sneakers. We will never forget the glory of this performance.

2. Thanksgiving Overmatch. A crisp Thanksgiving morning, a bigger crowd that usual. Probably six-on-six. Because of the way the schoolyard pick went down, the Cheese Fry wound up being covered by a very short, very confused gentleman. He didn't know much about football. The result wasn't pretty. We dominated the Short Confused Guy without mercy.

3. Heatstroke Fly. Griffith Park on a hot summer day. First play from scrimmage. A fly on the right sideline. The Cheese Fry sprinted, blew past the defender, got open. The ball dropped perfectly. The Cheese Fry doesn't usually catch balls over the shoulder very well. But that afternoon, we got the ball and didn't break stride. Boom. Touchdown. Cut to ten minutes later as the Cheese Fry suffered what was surely a heatstroke. But it was worth it. Right?

4. The Perfect Throw. The Cheese Fry would never claim to be a good passer. It takes a tricky combination of eye-hand coordination, spatial geometry, and fast thinking to get the ball where it needs to go. Frankly, we're terrible. But one throw sticks in our memory because it was so instinctual and so flawless. And never to be repeated again. It was a moment where, as they say, "the game slowed down." With a defender in our face rushing, we delivered a strike (on a rope) through two defender's outstretched hands and planted it right in the belly of a slanting receiving. Poetry in motion.

5. Our Favorite Play. We loved this call - typically called at the goal line as one player drew it our on the T-shirt of another player - because it almost always worked. Why? Because the Cheesy Fry is so very slow, but in possession of soft hands. If we can get open, we'll make the catch, coach. While two receivers slant over the top, we drag across underneath. In the confusion of the crossing pattern, we almost always got a step on the defender, got open, and made the catch. Score.

Knee-jerk review: "Tron Legacy"

1. Pretty pictures for sure.
2. At first we didn't like it much, but there is something intriguing about the film's central theme about the impossible pursuit of perfection and the unintended consequences of such a folly. We find that sort of fresh.
3. The younger, CGI'd Jeff Bridges is pretty laughable. Like something out The Polar Express. Great idea, though.
4. The plot seems needlessly convoluted and confusing. And packed full of cheesy, on-the-nose dialogue. Could have used another rewrite or two.
5. We never thought Olivia Wilde was that hot. Guess she is.
6. Lightcycles, meet lightjets. Cool.
7. The music, by Daft Punk, is nothing short of incredible. Best part of the movie without question.
8. We didn't know Bruce Boxleitner was in this movie. An unexpected surprise.
9. If Encom is the Microsoft of this world, how is it that its sleek corporate headquarters is seemingly guarded (on the eve of its newest OS release, no less) by a single pudgy, middle-aged security guard? It's this kind of narrative implausibility that drives us crazy.
10. We do have fond memories of the 1982 original. We even turned a plastic frisbee into an identity disk. Yes, we were one of those kinds of ten-year-olds.
11. Michael Sheen is certainly having a good time. The movie could have used more of that sort of energy and edge. It's almost like he stepped in from another, better film.
12. It's all fairly somber and humorless. There's one laugh line in the whole movie, involving Jules Verne, of all things.
13. If the portal is so easy to get to from the grid, why don't more programs try to use it to escape?
14. Curious to see if wide audiences (beyond the nerd niche, we mean) turn this into a hit and validate Disney's unusual decision to sequelize a film that's little more than a cult novelty.
15. Overall, a disappointment. And we had low expectations.

12.05.2010

Knee-jerk review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1"

1. No, we never read the books.
2. It really is a wonder that Warner Bros. didn't completely screw this franchise up. Every movie in the series is exceedingly well-made - and for the most part, each one is better than the last. Trust us, there were so many ways for this to fail. (And we're not even counting the possibility that J.K. Rowling would fail to keep delivering best-sellers.) Cast the wrong kids, fumble the tone, pick the wrong director, fail to properly trust the source material, get sloppy with the sequels and coast. Every pothole was miraculously avoided.
3. We still don't understand what Ron Weasely adds other than some lame comic relief. He gives Harry a family, yadda yadda. Okay, sure. But is that really enough to make him one of the Big Three?
4. We always liked Mad Eye.
5. Some very clever, if unsettling, satire here, especially the Stalin-style purging and persecuting of Muggles (and suspected Muggles).
6. Bellatrix Lestrange is kind of hot.
7. The best sequence of the movie: breaking into the Ministry to get the Horcrux.
8. "Horcrux." What a word.
9. Not much of a cliffhanger ending, if you ask us.
10. Hermione is kind of a bad ass, isn't she?
11. We don't much like the first two movies, perhaps due to our general distaste for simple-minded, gee-whiz director Chris Columbus. (We will never forgive him for Home Alone.) But we must give him begrudging respect for setting up the Potter world and for picking a sterling cast.
12. "Stupefy!"
13. Poor Dobby.
14. We want a tent like that. Might actually go camping once in a while.
15. There is a lot of running around... and also a lot of waiting around. And while we are fed a good deal of important information, there is a nagging sense that not much is really happening. One can only assume the real action will take place in Part 2.

Topics of Conversation with Old School Friends You Haven't Seen in a While

* Your babies and children
* Who was in which class (i.e. you can no longer remember who's older and who's younger)
* Bad things that have happened to old classmates (or better yet, bad physical appearances of old classmates)
* Amusing stories that involved you many years ago but the supposed details of which you have zero recollection (i.e. "I never said that!")
* Comparisons between the current incarnation of your alma mater and the one you inhabited many years ago - these new kids have it much better than you did
* Wondering how you survived some of the stupid shenanigans you once pursued
* Dead teachers
* Asking your classmates if they remember so-and-so (odds are only 50-50 at best that they did, which makes no sense - how can they not remember so-and-so?)
* Where old classmates now live
* What old classmates no do for a living
* Whether or not you're on Facebook

11.10.2010

Gone but not forgotten

You know you're getting old when important places from your youth no longer exist, either torn down and paved over or sold to a new proprietor and turned into a garish Mexican supermarket.

We won't forget you...

* Northpark Mall 6 movie theater - a far cry from the spacious stadium seating of today, but perfectly good to see the first-run release of Star Trek 2 and Back to the Future
* the Airline Extension apartment - you climb onto the roof of the building next door
* Tom Thumb grocery store on Walnut Hill - deli and produce on the left
* My Video on Webb Chapel - old one-sheets for $1!
* Cockrell Beach - no one asked us if it would be okay to build an arts museum there
* Ownby Stadium - never sold out
* Sound Warehouse at LBJ and Monfort - we miss you most of all, 45 singles
* Mr. Gatti's on Walnut Hill - you share the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, they'll kick you right out of there
* The Filling Station on Greenville - one Tune-Up, please
* Dairy Queen on Hillcrest - a nice way to spend the time before your evening class
* Sesame Place - don't wear your glasses in the ball pit
* Federated on Forest Lane - yes, we rented videodiscs (not laserdics, videodiscs) there
* Piggly Wiggly on Walnut Hill - where our grandmother shopped
* United Artists 6 on Park Lane - it may have been UA's flagship Dallas theater (and made pink neon briefly trendy), but that was one terrible location

11.02.2010

The fall TV season has fallen

The Cheese Fry doesn't watch as much TV as it used to - the Lil' Fry has upended our media consumption. But in stepping back to look at what shows we've sampled since the 2010-11 season started a few weeks ago, we have to admit that there is no doubt we remain a member of Couchus potatotus.

Here's a quick rundown of our thoughts on the new season.

"The Big Bang Theory" (CBS) - We regret to inform you that it's not as good as it used to be. We suspect the writers know they have a monster hit on their hands and are reluctant to change a thing. If it ain't broke and all that. Jim Parsons' Sheldon remains hilarious (and one of the more original characters ever put on TV), but more and more he's becoming the show's defacto star to the detriment of the other characters. This is a show that works best when it's functioning as a "Friends"-style ensemble. We also must deduct points for the broad, grating, stereotypical jokes involving Wolowitz' overbearing Jewish mother, which always feel like they belong in another, worse show.

"Blue Bloods" (CBS) - This is what you'd expect from CBS. Solid, nicely made, conservative, not exactly complex or challenging, blending extended-family drama with police intrigue. It's comfort food. We didn't really like the pilot, but we didn't hate it either. It is what is it.

"Chase" (NBC) - The actual goings-on of a team of gritty federal marshals would make for a pretty good show, don't you think? Consider the strategy, the action, the technology that must be involved in tracking down dangerous fugitives. This is not that show. (We think FX's acclaimed "Justified" may be that show, which we're sad to say we have not seen.) This is the bad version of that show. This is the watered-down NBC version of that show. The characters, the dialogue, the plotting, it's all so very very phony. Of course you have the new member of the team serving as the Rookie Who Doesn't Get It and Makes a Rookie Mistake That Almost Costs Them the Case and of course you have the Wiseass Sidekick mutter little throwaway jokes when everyone's discussing brutal crimes because You Have to Make a Joke or Else This Job Will Get to You. It's the kind of show that will probably feature a serial killer or mass murderer in every other episode (see also "Criminal Minds" and "Medium").

"Community" (NBC) - We sampled this show last season and found it rather frantic and clumsy. It seemed to be trying too hard. We gave up on it. Then we happened onto the "Modern Warfare" episode (aka the paintball episode) in reruns and fell in love. The show is still frantic, but it's now gotten a clear handle on its oddball collection of characters and find ways to allow each of them to shine. Even more significant perhaps, the show has developed a peculiar taste for screwball pop culture satire, spoofing space movies one week and religion the next week. It's a strange show that sometimes gets really Out There in pursuit of jokes, which may be why despite its fervent fan base it's always facing rumors of cancellation. You either get it or you don't.

"Cougar Town" (ABC) - The Cheese Fry loves the dialogue on this show. Funny, odd, edgy (sometimes mean), completely plausible, and rapid-fire. These characters don't just say funny things in that familiar set-up, punchline sitcom way; these characters say funny things because they're genuinely funny like your goofy coworker or your bestest old high school friend. You want to hang out with them to hear what they say next. This stuff is often so laugh-out-loud golden that we invariably hit the Tivo rewind button to experience it all over again. Penny can!

"Friday Night Lights" (NBC-DirecTV) - It's hard to find much fault in a show that shouldn't even still be on the air. No cops, no lawyers, no doctors, no dead bodies, no threats to mankind usually equals a quick cancellation. That it's still cranking out quality shows about family, teenage dreams, small town politics, and the value of team sports with vivid characters, subtle acting, and realistic dialogue is something of a minor miracle. We want to market a new bumper sticker: WWCTD? What would Coach Taylor do? This is supposedly the show's last season and it will be missed. A quiet masterpiece.

"Fringe" (FOX) - It's official. This is the new "X-Files." You got your crazy conspiracy theories, your complicated mythologies, your sexual tension between the two leads, and your monster-of-the-week murder cases. It's all there and this season the show is hitting new heights as it blends all of this together in one long narrative arc involving parallel universes and memory wipes. But this show has something "X-Files" never had: John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop. His flawed character, the lovable loser who did some very bad things in his past (for arguably the right reasons), is the heart and soul of the show.

"Glee" (FOX) - The Cheese Fry is a new convert to this fizzy show (thank you, Mrs. Cheese Fry), but we are not unaware of its frustrating inconsistency. The recent "Rocky Horror" episode was pretty terrible and the writers rarely seem to expend much energy trying to create a believable world. This is a show that stretches plausibility, then decides to stretch it a little more. Logic is often thrown out the window. You kind of have to go with it and enjoy the little moments of high-school outsider poignancy, laugh at the hilarious one-liners (Heather Morris' Brittany gets the best ones), soak in the eager we-want-to-entertain-you let's-put-on-a-show! charm, tap your feet to the song, and enjoy the quirky characters.

"The Good Wife" (CBS) - The Cheese Fry fully endorses this show, which continues to shine in its second season. A mature look at the messy morals and unpleasant realities of politics and law, as well as the complicated professional relationships familiar to any workplace. We don't know how "real" this show may be (we're not lawyers, nor are we running for office), but it certainly feels real and we appreciate that. Alan Cumming's frazzled political consultant is our new favorite TV character. If you haven't checked it out, do so immediately.

"Hawaii Five-0" (CBS) - The theme song kicks ass. And the show pretty much goes downhill from there. It's a cheesy, simpified look at law enforcement that tries way too hard to be hip and clever and, you know, fun. But the one-liners clunk, the sourpuss lead (Alex O'Loughlin) displays zero charisma, and nothing seems remotely realistic. We've given it several chances and are always disappointed. We have no officially given up. How this appeals to wide audiences and has become a hit right out of the gate is beyond our comprehension.

"How I Met Your Mother" (CBS) - Perhaps not as strong as it once was, thanks in part to the way Neil Patrick Harris' character is growing monotonously one-note (and if you think about it, his sexist promiscuity is borderline sociopathic). But it's usually good for a few good laughs and we remain fans of the way the show experiments with non-linear plots and unexpected narrative tangents. And really, Jason Segel can do no wrong.

"Law & Order Los Angeles" (NBC) - At long last, the show seems to be finding its groove after some shaky early episodes. Though the structure and narrative sensibility is the same as the other "Law & Order"s, sunny, sprawling Los Angeles is not dank, crowded New York City. Which means this show has an entirely different vibe. Not worse, just different. While we're hopeful the show continues to find itself and improve (we're trying very hard to suspend disbelief and buy Skeet Ulrich as a seasoned homicide detective), we continue miss the late great "Law & Order," whose last season was among its very strongest.

"Law & Order SVU" (NBC) - This has always been a dark show, chock full of amusing stuff like child rape and deviant personalities (always explained by television's most annoying know-it-all, Dr. Huang, who seems to lurk in the background until his expertise is required at which point he bounces into the frame to deliver his doctorly monologue). But more and more the show has taken on this operatic tone where everything is way over the top and exaggerated and, well, crazy. We understand that the show has to keep raising the bar and find new ways to shock the viewer, but we sometimes want to take a shower after watching an episode. Take, for example, the cringe-worthy recent episode that showed in rather disturbing detail what's involved in a rape exam. We're also starting to get tired of Eliot Stabler's tough-guy sneer.

"Medium" (CBS) - Yes, we often don't like this show's serial-killer-of-the-week subplots, which are often needlessly gory and violent. How can Phoenix generate this many mass killers and psychos? Answer: it can't. We also get tired of seeing Patricia Arquette wake up with a gasp after having one of her scary psychic dreams. And the mysteries are often fairly predictable. You'll be several steps ahead of the characters in figuring it all out. But the real appeal of this show isn't the police procedural stories or the psychic supernatural mumbo-jumbo. It's the family. Outside of "Friday Night Lights" (see above), no show displays as healthy and normal a marriage as the one shared by Allison and Joe Dubois. Watching them interact makes us get all warm and fuzzy inside, even when they're having problems. And the three daughters are probably the most realistic daughters on television, mostly because they're not at all precocious or glamorous. Think of it as a family drama masquerading as a cop show.

"Modern Family" (ABC) - The best word to use to describe this Emmy-winning show is "cute." You may not laugh out loud, but you'll definitely have a smile plastered on your face for the duration. The cast is top-notch across the board, including the kids - who actually factor into many of the plots and are just as well-written as the adults. It's single-handedly revived the family sitcom, a format dead since the departure of "Everybody Loves Raymond." The airwaves will soon be glutted by copycats. And none of them will be as good.

"The Office" (NBC) - Last season, this show seemed to be flailing on its last legs. The Very Special Episode where Pam gave birth was painfully unfunny and oddly forced. But for whatever reason, "The Office" seems to have recaptured its mojo, that unique sensibility that sympathetically explores these characters' insecurities and celebrates their peculiar outlooks, yet also takes great delight in putting them through embarrassment and humiliation (such as Andy's recent improvised monologue on stage in "Sweeny Todd"). You cringe just as much as you laugh.

"Survivor" (CBS) - We know it's not cool to still like this show, but we still like this show. Jeff Probst is at the top of his game and he's s a big reason why the show works. More importantly, of course, is that armchair quarterbacking is completely unavoidable. How can one not marvel at the bone-headed decisions these poor charact--, er, contestants make? You wonder if these people have ever seen "Survivor." The tribe has spoken.

"The Walking Dead" (AMC) - The Cheese Fry loves zombies. There's something uniquely appealing about a band of exhausted survivors facing impossible odds in the form of armies of relentless, mindless monsters. If it's got a zombie it, we want to see it. This new show doesn't cover much new ground in zombie lore (for something uniquely horrifying and inventive, read Max Brook's World War Z), but it's lean and mean and entirely competent. And it seems bent on exploring that classic question of the genre: who's the more dangerous enemy, the zombies you're fighting or your fellow survivors? And it's on cable, which means it's got a lot of gore, which is always a plus for this kind of thing.

10.17.2010

"Twin suns of Tatooine"

A whimsical song about Luke Skywalker's home world by Jeremy Messersmith, accompanied by a paper cut-out animated recap of the original trilogy. Why YouTube was invented.

9.25.2010

What it's like to live in Los Angeles

1. That person standing next to you in line at the Coffee Bean who kinda looks like Demi Moore? It is Demi Moore.
2. Wherever you are during the day, there's a little neuron in the back corner of your brain spending all its time wondering what would happen if a huge earthquake hit right... about... now, calculating survival odds, estimating the structural integrity of the whatever it is you're in or under, planning an exit route.
3. Why plant grass and trees when you can just pave it over?
4. Imagine being both an hour from the beach and an hour from the mountains. And not ever going to either one. Ever.
5. Good sushi always.
6. Unless it's January or February, there is no rain.
7. Unless it's January, February, or June, there are no clouds.
8. Don't bother starting your errand-running past 11:00am on a weekend. The traffic will be so bad you'll never get everything done on your list.
9. No matter how much you pretend that you're doing fine and are content with what you have, there's a jackass in the next lane driving a new BMW and wearing a $1800 pair of sunglasses who reminds you where you really stand in the economic scheme of things.
10. You can drive two hours in any direction and still not get out of the city. It's buildings and streets and people, all jammed together, for miles and miles and miles.
11. One good thing: an In N Out burger in every neighborhood.

12. The generic "industry" term means only one thing.
13. Everyone knows a shortcut. And you're always willing to hear new ones.

9.18.2010

Things we forgot about Texas

1. The weather can change in a matter of minutes, gray clouds and thunder suddenly boiling up on what had been an otherwise clear day.

2. The streets and highways are filled with pick-ups trucks, the bigger and taller and more pointless, the better. Four rear tires get you bonus points.

3. Politically, things lean to the right. We'd never before seen an anti-Obama bumper sticker.

4. Whenever you are, it will probably only take you about 15 mintues to drive to a part of town that is nothing but rolling hills of unmowed grass and trees.

9.14.2010

"It's time to put on makeup... it's time to dress up right..."

"Sesame Street" was undeniably essential to the Cheese Fry's formative years (and watching what passes for the show now is, frankly, rather disheartening), but there are few family shows as sublime as "The Muppet Show."

Top Ten Coolest Muppets
1. Kermit the Frog - obviously
2. Animal
3. Cookie Monster
4. Beaker
5. Grover
6. Big Bird - sentimental vote
7. The Count - he's a little bit crazy, don't you think?
8. Floyd
9. Gonzo
10. Bert - if we had to live with Ernie, we'd always be pissed off, too
11. Statler and Waldorf
12. Sam the Eagle

Five Most Annoying Muppets
1. Elmo - we reject him/her/it with all of our heart
2. Miss Piggy - we don't get her, we don't want to get her
3. Fozzie the Bear
4. Oscar the Grouch - overrated
5. The Swedish Chef - one joke stretched for an eternity

College Humor devised a chart to explore the etymology of Muppet names. Very clever.

9.06.2010

"I'm losing you."

A few years ago, following a long time wandering the PC wilderness, the Cheese Fry re-embraced the Cult of the Mac. Apple is genius company in so many ways, but there's also a certain malevolence about it, don't you think? Steve Jobs may like to think of himself as the anti-Bill Gates, but he shares many of Bill's business instincts when it comes to maintaining a market share and blocking any and all competition. Macheads all love Jobs and think he's interested solely in creating a glossy, warm-and-fuzzy user experience, but come on. Like any CEO, he wants to growing Mac into an empire. In other words, Microsoft may have been a business bully in the 1990s, but Apple is giving them a run for their money in this decade.

Wired (we are also a member of the Cult of Wired) recently dissected the stormy relationship between Apple and AT&T over the iPhone. We never thought we'd feel sorry for AT&T.

8.30.2010

The 62nd Annual Emmy Awards

* We really hate the red carpet pre-award shows. For one, it is a too-long opportunity for all of those fake, sniveling "Access Hollywood"-style sound-bite interviews where everyone's a fan of everyone else and we're all just so happy to be here. The world would be a better place if Billy Bush had to be digging ditches somewhere. Of that we're sure. But more repellant are those "fashion police" elements of the red carpet shows were know-it-all nobodies show us which dress was a hit and which dress was a miss. We don't know much about fashion, but we're willing to give the benefit of the doubt to designers who make their living, you know, designing rather than some snarky talking head hired for the day by "The Insider." The whole thing feels like high school where the pretty, popular girls are called sluts out of jealousy.

* Jimmy Fallon is funny. Great "Glee" inspired open, but we hate that the Emmys use this bit to continue to breathe life into the celebrity of Kate Gosselin. She's another one who, like Billy Bush, has made our lives a little less pleasant by being on TV.

* We're sick of Betty White. Please go back to the pop culture punchline obscurity from which you came. It was fun, but it's over.

* Jon Hamm should be a bigger star than he is.

* A singing Hugo Hurley Reyes!

* John Hodgman, the guy who's doing the deadpan commentary of the winners as they walk to the stage (he was the PC in the "I'm a Mac" TV spots), isn't nearly as funny as he thinks he is.

* Why does everything have to involve Twitter nowadays? #Enoughtweeting

* We like Sofia Vergara, but we're getting tired of the dumb sexpot Latina routine.

* Love this bit where we get to see and hear the nominated directors and writers talking.

* Stephen Colbert is a genius without question. But the guy is always on, always in character, always doing his schtick. It can be exhausting to watch.

* We do feel kind of uncool for not watching "Glee." But we can't watch every show that gets good buzz.

* How very meta to allow the viewers a glimpse into the Emmy TV control room and hear the director counting us down after the commercial breaks.

* Does anyone really enjoy the painful award show banter between two actors who (in some cases) probably never met before? If it works (see: Arnett, Will and his sex poem), then use it. But if it's not working, why not cut it? Why force us to sit through it? The producers have to know when something is funny or not. Don't they?

* The taped bit about "Modern Family" meeting with a clueless TV executive is funny. And it's probably happens something like this more often than not when a show is struggling.

* George Clooney. Give the guy credit - he'll do anything for a laugh sometimes.

* Jim Parsons seems like a watered-down version of his weirdo "Big Bang Theory" character Sheldon. We can't see him doing anything after the show ends. He's just too Sheldon.

* We are fans of Neil Patrick Harris. He can do anything. But we've recently grown rather weary of his misogynist, promiscuous Barney character on "How I Met Your Mother." If anyone else had been playing him, we'd have started hating him long ago.

* Lea Michele. A future ex-Mrs. Cheese Fry.

* "Nurse Jackie" is not a comedy. We call foul.

* We can't decide who is less appropriate to be featured at the Emmys, which is ostensibly a forum in which we celebrate actual skill and talent: Kate Gosselin or Kim Kardashian. Kim needs to join Billy Bush in the ditch digging. She could use a honest day's work.

* We do like Will Arnett. But he's a little bit scary, too, isn't he?

* Bravo's "Top Chef" beats out CBS' "The Amazing Race" for best reality show. The Emmys more and more have become an advertisement for cable programming. At some point, the networks are going to stop paying millions for the rights to air the Emmy show.

* More Emmy love for AMC's "Mad Men." We tried to watch it when it first debuted a few years ago. We lasted maybe four episodes before giving up - it's well done, sure, but it's also very somber. Everyone on the show is so miserable. We don't know anyone who actually watches it on a regular basis.

* "Lost" isn't going to get any Emmy respect, is it?

* We do like "The Good Wife," but think Archie Panjabi's Kalinda is probably the show's least rounded character.

* And now please welcome to the stage... actors you've never heard of who are starring in a new show on NBC you won't see for another four weeks! Not cool to use an award show to sell your new shows, especially if doing so means you're forcing new faces on us. We want TV stars, not nobodies. We won't watch "Undercover" out of spite.

* Highlight of the show so far: Jimmy Fallon's goodbye songs to "24," "Law & Order," and "Lost." Genius.

* We may just about be over Tina Fey.

* It's not very engaging when the winners just read a list of names. Honestly, what would happen if you didn't thank your team of attorneys?

* Ricky Jervais is sublime in situations like this. There's a danger to him. You don't know what he's going to say. And the sharpest of knives come out while he keeps that beatific grin on his face.

* We used to watch "The Daily Show," which just won best variety show for the 8th year in a row. We loved it. But it became a chore. If you don't keep up in the TiVo, that stack of unwatched "Daily Show" episodes becomes just as bad as the term paper from 10 grade that's due next Monday.

* "What is The Event" on NBC? A show they hope desperately will become the next "Lost" but will likely end up being the next "Flashforward."

* Maybe we're cynical, but we don't think it's a coincidence that the Emmys decided to honor one of the world's biggest movie stars, George Clooney, a guy who hasn't been on TV in ten years. We call it a ratings ploy, pure and simple. As good a guy as he is, Emmy voters are notoriously enamored of movie stars.

* All of the movies and miniseries nominees are from HBO (with a few token PBS titles). Remember when the networks made movies-of-the-week? They were still doing a few as recently as the early 1990s.

* We do not get January Jones. Seriously.

* The "In Memoriam" segments, as on the Oscars, always devolves into some kind of weird applause referendum. Who'll get the biggest cheer? Clap for your favorites!

* We didn't know Caroline McWilliams, the sassy executive assistant on "Benson," died. Sad.

* Enough with the Emmys for HBO's "Temple Grandin."

* No shock here: "Mad Men" wins again for best drama. Yawn. One thing about Emmys - once they find a winner, they tend to go back to the same well many many times. "Frasier" won about 15 years in a row it seemed.

* "Modern Family" wins best comedy. It is a pretty funny show, so we can't complain.

8.27.2010

Times when we do not want to talk to strangers

* Entering or leaving the grocery store
* Sitting in coach on an airplane
* Pumping gas
* Waiting at a traffic light
* Using an ATM
* Crossing the street
* Riding in an elevator
* Waiting to see the doctor

"And the actual retail price is..."

The Cheese Fry remembers well as a boy watching one contestant rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars from CBS' weekday game show "Press Your Luck." (We miss you, Peter Tomarken.) The guy's incredible, unending, no-Whammy spins chewed up so much time that CBS had to stop the show and pick it up again the next day. Our elementary-school mind was effectively blown. Only later, thanks to the hard-hitting journalism of 1980s TV Guide, did we learn that the contestant had found a mechanical glitch in the "Press Your Luck" big board that allowed him to avoid the Whammy.

Esquire last month exceeded TV Guide by exploring in detail how one contestant gamed the mother lode of game shows - "The Price is Right" - and became that very rare species: the Double-Showcase Winner. We'd heard something about this when it happened, but we didn't understand the drama involved behind the scenes. The producers were sure the contestant had somehow cheated when in fact he'd done something perhaps far more pathetic: he'd learned the prices of every prize put up for bid.

7.31.2010

Thoughts on "The Good Wife"

The Cheese Fry has recently been trying to work through its backlogged DVR list. It can be a real chore. You'd rather watch a schlocky rerun of "Cops," but then you remember those seven recorded episodes of "30 Rock" and feel guilty about not burning through some of those. The DVR starts to feel like homework. Make dinner, clean the kitchen, fast-forward through a three-month-old "Saturday Night Live." Repeat tomorrow.

But there are benefits to the DVR, such as discovering a new favorite. We'd watched CBS' "The Good Wife" a few times early last fall, but it stopped being appointment viewing around the holidays. But the Cheese Fry kept it on the DVR list, so the episodes kept stacking up. Part of our reluctance stemmed from the fact that "The Good Wife" is so clearly an older-skewing show like other CBS dramas "The Mentalist" and the "NCIS" franchise. It's a slow-moving drama cast mostly with people over the age of 40. Nothing blows up. No one strips to their underwear. And the big twists that end episodes are fairly small, more clever than shocking. In short, this is a show our parents watch. Not us. We're still hip, right? We like the "Real World-Road Rules Challenge" and "So You Think You Can Dance." Even so, we must sadly come to grips with the simple fact that we're way past that coveted 18-34 advertising demographic.

So we might as well embrace "The Good Wife" and list its charms:

* Julianna Margulies is not what you expect from a TV star. She's not exactly charismatic. She rarely offers any sort of expression. Her voice is evenly modulated. Her acting style is placid sometimes to the point of android catatonia. And it's not just an actorly take on the button-down character of spurned-politician-wife-turned-lawyer Alicia Florrick. This is pretty much how she played Carol Hathaway on "ER" all those years ago. Her silent brooding sets the tone for entire series, which is filled with civil conversations, cold emotion, and hushed discussions.

* It may be the quietest show on television. The music cues are soft, the characters all powerful and upper-class in that way that keeps them from ever raising their voice, and the editing very traditional and methodical. It's the antidote to the overblown, finger-wagging theatrics of "Law & Order" or the slick and glossy hyperactive aesthetic of "CSI."

* The serialized storyline offers a complex look at backroom political dealings. Along with the standalone legal plots of the episodes, which always features Alicia finding a way to Save the Day, each episode also advances the story of Alicia's disgraced husband Peter. Peter was the state attorney general, but he was charged with bribery (we think) and is now locked in a complicated legal conflict with his successor (played by the always weasely Titus Welliver). There's a fascinating level of dirty murk in this storyline because we've never exactly sure what's going on or who's doing what to who. Both sides have allies, some clearer than others; both sides suffer setbacks and win small victories; and a lot of people caught in the middle get used as pawns (including Alicia) in the bigger fight. It's compelling because it all seems so plausible. This isn't a quick showdown where someone breaks down on the stand and the winner is decided, this is a marathon legal struggle involving some very bright and very determined people. We never watched "The Wire," but we suspect this is the poor man's version of that show - a look at how politics and justice and influence and wealth tie together in messy ways that aren't entirely legal but also may not be exactly illegal.

* Even the rich have money problems. There's no doubt that Alicia and her co-workers are upper class. They work in expansive offices with city views and live in plush condos. It's well-executed wish fulfillment for middle America who craves that kind of fancy uptown lifestyle. But even so, the show mines a lot of drama out of financial problems of the sort that middle America is surely quite familiar. Alicia worries about losing her job, the firm agonizes over layoffs, everyone feels the pressure to perform or else. The rich and powerful... they're just like us!

* Not everything is flawless. The firm's investigator, a mysterious woman named Kalinda, is sometimes a little too good to be true. Kalinda isn't just well connected, she seems to have a Deep Throat source on every street corner. She's always able to dig up some secret clue or deduce some connection in the nick of time to help Alicia. She so invaluable that we wonder why she's not a partner at the firm, although one episode did suggest that Kalinda's services are quite well-compensated. Even so, it'd be nice to see her fail at least once. Right now, Kalinda is more a plot tool than a three-dimensional character.

We like this show. And we're not ashamed to say it.

Knee-jerk review: "The Kids Are All Right"

1. It's been a while since we've seen an independent movie in a theater. When they're good, they're very, very good.
2. This one falls squarely into the Silver Lake/Westside subgenre of indie dramas, the ones that feature upper middle-class Los Angeles characters (there's also a subgenre featuring affluent, navel-gazing East Coasters) who live in amazing houses, discuss trendy topics like locavore foods, own their own hip little restaurants, and spend a lot of time agonizing over problems that are only problems for those who don't have to worry about paying the bills.
3. Bonus points for one character's rant against that very same hollow, smug, save-the-world vibe that makes liberals feel so good about themselves.
4. It's essentially a five-person drama. And each of the five characters get some very strong moments - funny lines, emotional breakdowns, etc. This is what they mean when they say you need to create a part that will attract an actor. Who wouldn't want to play all five of these parts?
5. We're proud of Annette Bening for allowing herself to look her age without resorting to botox or surgery. You go, girl.
6. You don't often see movies that examine this closely the mundane everyday joys, tensions, and grudges of a marriage. We can't even think of the last one we saw. The closest thing is probably the Taylors on NBC's "Friday Night Lights." Usually marriage is a backdrop for a string of jokes and one-liners (usually about how horrible marriage is) or a device used to increase the stakes and give the hero (usually a man) Something to Lose.
7. We knew something bad was going to happen when Nic decided to use the bathroom. We just didn't know how it was going to play out.
8. "No lines."
9. We don't think Julianne Moore has ever been this cute.
10. There are no easy answers here regarding how a sperm donor might or might not get involved in his the lives of his biological "children." Yes, he helps change these two kids for the better . But he also causes a lot of problems. And as well-intentioned as he might be, you agree with Annette Bening when she tells him off towards the end of the movie.
11. Most refreshing of all, that the parents here are a lesbian couple is barely a factor.
12. It'll surely be in 2010's top ten lists come December.

7.25.2010

"You can get with this or you can get with that"

Another memorable commercial that was in heavy rotation during the NBA playoffs. The Cheese Fry is likely far outside the 20-something demo for the Kia Soul, but that doesn't mean we didn't like the spot.

We're not sure what's more disturbing - the hamsters driving a washing machine or the hamsters trying and failing to drive a cardboard box. What were these ad guys smoking? And where can we get some?

7.18.2010

Knee-jerk review: "Inception"

1. The Cheese Fry hasn't seen a movie since December, and this is the one we pick?
2. The way Warner Bros. - and most critics, who are collectively in love with filmmaker Christopher Nolan - has been positioning the movie, only smart and sophisticated audiences will appreciate it. Which seems to us a rather ingenious way to defuse any negative reaction. If you don't like, you must be dumb.
3. I guess we're dumb. Because we didn't like it.
4. We were growing restless and dissatisfied towards the end (those repeated shots of the van falling were starting to get unintentionally funny to us) when it inexplicably became a James Bond movie. Random and pointless, existing solely, it seems, to be able to blow stuff up.
5. But then that final ambiguous shot was the last straw. You'll know the one. We suffer through all of this confusion, double-talk, and mind-games for more than two hours and you can't even give us a simple resolution? Screw you, too, Nolan.
6. We loved Memento and The Prestige, but Nolan undeniably became a cinematic "genius" darling based on The Dark Knight, a cleverly plotted and visually striking movie but also too long, too jammed full of needless plot, and suffering from a clunky ending. You'll find the same problems here. (The Dark Knight was also a movie that people loved to love, imagining that appreciating the film made them sophisticated and discerning.)
7. We don't get Ellen Page. Sorry. (And why is she pitch-person for Cisco. There has to be a good reason, right?)
8. There's a lot to be explained here about the "rules" of the dream thieving. And this movie does about as well it can in setting everything up in the first 30 minutes. Exposition is never easy, but it goes down fairly smooth here.
9. You know who we do get? Tom Hardy. He plays a fairly minor character but steals every scene he's in. This guy needs more parts, immediately.
10. We hear DiCaprio's the one who insisted on more of backstory for his character. And we have to admit, certain elements of this worked quite well for us. Wanting to see your kids' faces again? We can understand that.
11. Begrudging bonus points for the twist involving DiCaprio's previous experience with "inception." We liked that.
12. What's with not putting up a title card until after the movie's over? We recall first seeing that with Danny DeVito's terrible, unwatchable Hoffa back in the 1990s. Here you get the Warner Bros. sheild, the Legendary Pictures logo, then the movie just starts... and after the final fade out (see #5 above), then we finally get "INCEPTION." What's that all about? LIke so much of this movie, it feels arrogant.
13. Really, what is the point aside from playing with the audience?
14. We're told going into limbo will scramble your brain, but several people emerge from limbo with brains intact. That kind of nagging plot confusion bugs us.
15. The whole thing just feels smug and condescending. It didn't at first. It starts strong and we thought we were going to like it. But then... it just gets so tedious.
16. The hallway fight you see on the TV spots where everyone crawling on the walls - that is pretty cool.
17. We're still not sure if we get Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But we did love 500 Days of Summer.
18. It'll make a lot of money. And only encourage Nolan.

Top seven quotes: "Hell's Kitchen"

1. "Yes, chef." - The ubiquitous, reflex reply to any and all statements, questions, insults, accusations, recriminations, and attacks directed to the exhausted contestants by Chef Ramsay. We say this all the time in the Cheese Fry's kitchen - it makes us feel like the few lame dishes we make are actually something special. If you were going to turn this show into a drinking game, "yes, chef" would be the phrase to use to do a shot. You'd be buzzed before the first commercial.

2. "It's raw!" - Usually preceded by Chef Ramsay asking one of the contestants to examine the raw meat in question up close ("C'mon, touch it!") and followed by the hurling of the raw meat in question into the nearest trash can, plate and all. One of the more curious aspects of "Hell's Kitchen" is the way seemingly experienced, competent, confident cooks can shrivel so utterly and completely during the infamous "dinner service" segment of each show. This particularly odd since it seems that only a cursory examination of the meat would tell the cook it needs more time on the stove. The Cheese Fry has long been interested in finding out exactly what make the show's "dinner service" so seemingly impossible. Is it that the diners all sit down at once en masse? Is it that the kitchens are understaffed? Is it that the menus are complicated? Is it that it's hard to have total strangers work together as a team? Are real kitchens this chaotic and stressed-out?

3. "You donkey!" - Chef Ramsay certainly isn't afraid of letting loose a horrific insult right to a contestant's face. "You cow!" would be a close second, always reserved for the women contestants. Calling someone a "donkey" ranks among his more memorable choices. It seems on one hand so quaint and harmless (it's one of the few words Fox doesn't have to bleep), yet on the other hand so unusual and specific. We've been called many things... but never a donkey.

4. "And now the continuation of 'Hell's Kitchen'" - So says the announcer at the top of each show. We love the way each episode picks up exactly where the last one left off (Chef Ramsay dismissing the remaining contestants moments after kicking one of off the show), giving the show a distinctive vibe. These are all just seamless chapters in one long book.

5. "Oh dear." - When you're dealing with a volcanic personality and expect shouts and screams, sometimes it's all the more chilling when instead you get a muted, muttered statement. That's what the quiet "oh dear" is for Chef Ramsay. Part disappointment, part bewilderment, part disgust, he usually utters this moments after receiving a poorly prepared entree from a confident contestant who's sure it's perfect.

6. "Why should you stay in 'Hell's Kitchen'?" - The question Chef Ramsay asks each contestant up for elimination, which invariably leads to pathetic begging and shameless pleading that rarely offers anything more useful that "I want this" or "I know I can do better."

7. "Gimme your jacket." - This show's version of "The tribe has spoken." Goodbye and so long.

8. "It's cooked perfectly." - This Ramsay fake-out happens in every show, so it can be something of a sport to try and predict when it will happen and to whom. Here's how it works: Ramsay will receive an entree, look it over, then shout out in apparent anger the contestant's name. The contestant snaps their head around, "Yes, chef?" (see #1 above). Expecting to hear news of nuclear armageddon or the murder of a litter of puppies. Ramsay instead says, "These scallops... are cooked perfectly!" The contestant smiles and we see a quick confessional cutaway that shows the contestant puffing up in pride at, well, doing his/her job the way it was intended.

6.26.2010

To letterbox or not to letterbox

Trying to see a movie on television in the same format as it appeared in theaters has always been a challenge. Do not say the words "pan and scan" to us. But with the advent of widescreen HDTVs the problem seems to have gotten worse. The Cheese Fry's newest pet peeve is to tune into to some B-level cable channel (we're looking at you, Lifetime and FX) and see what is clearly a square image (and decidedly not in HD) purposely stretched horizontally to fill the rectangular widescreen TV frame. It's insulting. Do they think all us simpletons with our fancy Costco TV sets care about is that our whole TV is filled? Do they not think we can see that things on the edge of the frame of stretched and pulled?

When trying to explain this dilemma to newbies, it's not always easy. Full disclosure: we're not always 100% clear on how it all works, either.

Thankfully, a site called AspectRatioPolice has put together a nice primer on the problem with fitting rectangular movie frames into squarish TV boxes.

6.18.2010

Wizard of Westwood

The Cheese Fry has worked at UCLA for quite some time now. UCLA loves them some John Wooden (who died earlier this month at age 99). His name and face are plastered all over campus. We could pretend to know all about his legendary coaching exploits, but the truth is that despite his amazing accomplishments, he's mostly just a name to us from the dusty pages of NCAA history.

That said, the guy was something of a poet when it came to pithy self-help quotes. He wasn't a bestselling author for no reason.

Consider:

* I'd rather have a lot of talent and a little experience than a lot of experience and a little talent.
* You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.
* Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.
* It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.
* The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.
* Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
* Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.
* You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one.
* Never mistake activity for achievement.
* It isn't what you do, but how you do it.
* If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
* Failure is not fatal, but failure to change may be.

And our personal favorite:

* Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Genius.

6.12.2010

Comedy out of certain, you know, situations

We hold these comedic truths to be self-evident:
* "Better Off Ted" would be a huge hit in a fairer, more just world. We saw it once and was really impressed. Never tuned in again, though. See our point?
* "How I Met Your Mother" is amusing mostly for its often clever non-linear storytelling that often doubles back on itself or cuts away for asides, flashbacks, and fantasies. Despite his unending accolades, Neil Patrick Harris is not the MVP of this show. It's Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan.
* "Two and Half Men" is hilarious, but so consumed with raunch and sleaze that we want to take a shower after watching it.
* "The Middle," with its lower-middle-class, "Roseanne"-style, just-scraping-by sensibility, was refreshing the first couple of times we saw it. But then it just became glum and depressing. If we want to worry about money problems, we'll open up our checkbook.
* "Community" is apparently really hitting its creative stride. So says the buzz. We'll take its word for it. But we do love us some Joel McHale (plug: watch "The Soup" on E!).
* "The Big Bang Theory" does the stale three-camera, live-before-a-studio-audience structure of set-up, punchline, bigger-punchline better than anyone. When it's good, it's very good. When it's not, it's very stale.
* "The New Adventures of Old Christine" was just canceled and it's not hard to see why. It was very solid, but just not particularly new. No pun intended.
* "Parks and Recreation" is one we haven't seen and, frankly, don't plan to. What are we, paid TV critics? We have a life, people. But we do love us some Amy Poehler.
* "30 Rock" is like medicine. It's so very very good for you. But we can't seem to look forward to it. Maybe it's that smug, you-probably-won't-get-this-joke attitude?
* "The Office" is now something of an elder statesmen, which is just strange. It's not as good as it used to be, but it can still be brilliant. What an ensemble of weirdo characters. That includes you, too, Jim and Pam. Normal people would have quit that insane job long ago.
* "Modern Family" is often hilarious, but what makes it satisfying is its pro-family sweetness. It's a feel-good comedy for the whole family. Yes, ABC, you can use that quote in your ads. There's a little Phil in the Cheese Fry. So says Mrs. Cheese Fry.
* "Cougartown" is the best sitcom on the air today. Period. Take it to the bank. Fade to black. The gags come so fast, we can't always keep up. Thank you, DVR "rewind" button. Surreal and sublime. Will you marry us, Busy Phillips?

Play it again, iTunes

Twenty songs we never get tired of hearing.

1 Bananarama, "I Heard a Rumor"
2 Mazzy Star, "Fade into You"
3 Jade, "Don't Walk Away"
4 Neneh Cherry, "Buffalo Stance"
5 Pink, "U + Ur Hand"
6 The Cars, "Drive"
7 Glass Tiger, "Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)"
8 Sly Fox, "Let's Go All the Way"
9 Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now"
10 Van Halen, "Panama"
11 Beyonce, "Crazy in Love"
12 Maroon 5, "Wake Up Call"
13 Jay-Z, "Show Me What You Got"
14 Carolina Liar, "Show Me What I'm Looking For"
15 Nickelback, "Photograph"
16 Trick Pony, "On a Night Like This"
17 Kelly Clarkson, "I Do Not Hook Up"
18 Dido, "Thank You"
19 Carolyn Dawn Johnson, "I Don't Want You to Go"
20 O.A.R., "Shattered (Turn the Car Around)"

Fade in on: main titles

Christian Annyas, whoever she/he may be, is our kind of obsessive-compulsive collector. Christian's website meticulously catalogs screenshots of feature film main and end titles. It's a fascinating nostalgic trip not only through film history, but also through design/typographic history. This is just the kind of pointless hobby the Cheese Fry would have likely undertaken when he was in elementary school.

Shredding is fun

Courtesy a Wired magazine shout-out, SSI makes industrial-sized shredders. You know how your home shredder doesn't like staples? Not much of a problem for SSI. They post videos demonstrating the titanic horsepower of their machines, which includes shredding a car and a dozen or so bowling balls. Grrr.

6.05.2010

Our new favorite commercial

When we see this commercial, we have to stop and watch it. Sublime.

"You lie!"

We're not political pundits (though the job sure does look easy enough) here at the Cheese Fry offices in beautiful downtown North Hollywood. But it seems to us that Washington has gotten a lot more rancorous in its petty partisanship. We certainly hope this isn't a case of some lame, crotchety "things were better in the old days" sensibility, but it could be.

From where we see it, this whole things seems to have gotten it's start with the Republican witch hunt of Bill Clinton. For a variety of reasons that far smarter people have filled books with, the right-wing hated Clinton and everything he stood for. But it wasn't enough to hate him. Clinton was vilified. And so we got a years-long investigation by Ken Starr that changed focus and direction as needed to find a scandal, any scandal, to stick to Clinton. The president is certainly a man of many errors and omissions - all Lewinsky-related decisions made by him are shocking at best and shameful at worst - as most presidents are. But few presidents ever had to contend with so rabid and relentless an attack from the opposition. That he was ultimately impeached for lying in a deposition, to us, hardly counts as a "high crime or misdemeanor." That he was accused of this Congress made for some very thick irony. You needed hip waders to get through the river of moral hypocrisy and phony sanctimony flowing down the Capitol hallways.

And then George W. Bush got elected. Which put the shoe on the other foot. You won't get any argument from us about the criminal, reprehensible decision Bush made to invade Iraq on the basis of lies and double-speak. But just as Clinton was demonized by the right, so too was Bush demonized by the left (although with a lot less fervor and organization - there simply is no Rush Limbaugh for the Democratic side of things, try as Al Franken did). Bush's simple-minded ways and aw-shucks personality were a particular source of ridicule, which in some ways proved the right's point - if you're not an Ivy League grad with a string of fancy degrees, then you're beneath contempt. The idea of treating the office of the president with respect and dignity was but a distant memory of some golden era that ended with the 1992 victory of Clinton.

Now we're come full circle with Barack Obama replacing Bush. The Republicans, sore losers in so many ways, have predictably brought out the knives to slice and dice the president as often as possible. Add to this parisan mix the powderkeg racial issue and you've got some real open hatred. It's not enough to oppose Obama's policies. No, you need to claim he's not even a U.S. citizen or spread rumors that he's a Muslim sleeper agent or suggest that he's a communist in a world where there's really only two countries left that are truly Communist-run. (Most of these folks wouldn't know communist doctrine if you gave them a copy of Das Capital.)

The Cheese Fry was particularly appalled by Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie" during the president's first State of the Union, treating a solemn event as some kind of South Carolina pep rally. Was Wilson shamed or sanctioned? Nope. He was a hero of the Republican party for daring to speak out. (We experienced a shocking moment of self-awareness when we realized that we probably wouldn't have been so outraged had someone shouted "You lie!" to Bush from the floor of Congress. Might we be just as hypocritical? Might we be part of the problem? In a word, yep.)

In other words, things seem to be getting worse.

It seems clear that national politics has become a zero-sum game. I can't win if you win. Also know as, the only way I win is to be sure you lose. Compromise is now a dirty word and merrily blocking bills and votes has become a part of the Congressional job description. What's called a "dirty trick" by the minority is a "reasonable procedure" by the majority. The names and parties may change, but the offending behavior remains the same.

We place some of the blame on the economy. When people lose jobs and worry about their future, they're quick to get riled up and look for someone to blame. An aloof, African-American president who talks in flowery sentences and is so unlike the vast majority of Americans (which we think is, like, a good thing) is one place to start.

But we think the real culprit is the partisan media.

In the days of Kennedy and Carter and Reagan, you were stuck with the local newspaper and the three networks. You didn't hear the fringe criticisms and the conspiracy theories and the wack jobs and the rumors. You got the dry facts and maybe a few clips of protesters in the streets. When Walter Cronkite dared to speak out against Vietnam, it was a watershed moment that even LBJ could see.

My how things have changed in a world full of websites and radio stations and cable networks. If you have an opinion, we have a forum just for you. Objective journalists need not apply.

The big bully is, of course, the right-wing loudmouths. Rush Limbaugh often seems to have a stranglehold on his listeners, every opinion taken as fact, every misstatement and exagerration assumed to be gospel. Glenn Beck is a new member of this movement, hooting and hollering from his Fox News soap box, but becoming a force to be reckoned with. But let's not just cast aspersions on Fox News and right-wing AM talk radio. The media partisanship works both ways. The Cheese Fry loves to hate Fox News which so shamelessly slants every single story, but then one day we watched some MSNBC programming with a critical eye. One could argue that Keith Olbermann is just as much a bully as Beck or Limbaugh, mixing opinion with news, making no effort to conceal his agenda. There's a smug arrogance to Olbermann that is identical to Limbaugh: "If you don't know I'm right, you're stupid." At least Jon Stewart is up-front about his show being comedy first, news second.

This is apparently a growing problem in our fractured, niche media marketplace, where everyone can tune into someone who talks and thinks just like they do. This "echo chamber" effect keeps opposing views out and serves to reinforce partisan thinking. It's practically a form of brainwashing, cementing extreme opinion and casting every political question in an us-versus-them frame. It's why CNN, which continues to so quaintly cling to impartial, objective reporting, is struggling in the ratings. No one's interested in that. They want to get riled up and hear what dirty deeds the other side has done today. This unending inflaming of the people isn't helping. It's hurting.

And we'e not sure we can all change the channel.

The Cheese Fry Hot 8 (Lost edition)

1. Dr. Juliet Burke
2. Penny Widmore
3. Sun Kwon
4. Kate Austen
5. Nikki Fernandez
6. Charlotte Lewis
7. Alex Rousseau
8. Ilana

No, we're not Claire Littleton fans. Sorry.

"Surf dudes with attitude... kinda groovy..."

We're way behind in posting odds and ends we consider blog-worthy. This clip is a prime example. It's several months old, but still oh-so-sweet.



"Saved by the Bell" may have been the bigger hit, but true TNBC connoisseurs like us know that its Saturday morning companion "California Dreams" was the far better show. (Editor's note: the truly best show that ever graced TNBC? The late great "Running the Halls.") Both "Saved" and "Dreams" were equally implausible, white-bread corny, and punctuated by those mindless cheers and whoops from the teeny-bopper studio audience. And both clearly offered a ridiculously tame, G-rated take on the realities of high school, surely formed by soulless focus groups and 40-year-old executive millionaires. But there was something edgy about "California Dreams." Maybe it was the ethnically-diverse cast. Maybe it was the somewhat realistic depiction of a struggling garage band. Maybe it was the supercute Heidi Lenhart. Maybe it was just the fact that the show didn't stoop so low as to offer a cartoon character as grating and insulting as Screech. Whatever the reason, lounging around on a Saturday morning in the haclyon early 90s, sometimes nursing a hangover, sometimes just trying to plan out the weekend... this was television manna.

Thank you, Jimmy Fallon. You get us.