Lost “Man of Science Man of Faith”

Cool: That opening teaser sure packs a real wallop, doesn’t it? What initially seems to be some kind of weird 1970s flashback of one of the main characters is actually taking place in the hatch. Someone’s living down there. On purpose. As Hurley would say: “Dude, that’s messed up.”
Huh?: The first season ended with a particularly sweaty episode involving this horrible fear that the Others are coming. That threat - complete with ominous columns of black smoke - rightfully sent everyone into a panic and led Jack and Locke to decide to try and blow open the Hatch to hide everyone inside. But as the second season opens, everyone’s just sort of hanging around and ambling here and there. What happened to all of that urgency? For people that are supposedly terrified of impending death, Jack and Kate and Locke sure do seem chatty here.

Best Line: “You.” – Jack upon seeing Desmond and remembering him from a chance encounter years earlier in the U.S. Which of course shatters Jack’s arrogant confidence that Locke’s repeated mantra that “everything happens for a reason” is all a load of crap. Of all the people in the world to find in the Hatch, it's someone Jack knows? Trippy. As this episode’s title suggests, the show seems to be slowly ratcheting up the tension between Jack’s rational “head” and Locke’s instinctual “heart."

Summer 2005 Box Office Prognostication Results Show

Back on May 23, the Cheese Fry took a look at some of this summer’s high-profile movies and predicted the box office gross for each. How did we do? Take a look:

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the SithCheese Fry prediction from May 23: $360 million
Actual U.S. box office gross as of October 10: $380.2 million
Differential: +$20.2 million

War of the WorldsPrediction: $212 million
Gross: $233.5 million
Differential: +21.5 million

Cinderella ManPrediction: $115 million
Gross: $61.6 million
Differential: -$53.4 million
Just about everyone thinks it would have done better as a fall release.

The Wedding Crashers
Prediction: $103 million
Gross: $207 million
Differential: +$104 million
Big is one thing, but this was huge.

Batman Begins
Prediction: $73 million
Gross: $205.1 million
Differential: +$132.1 million
Never underestimate the power of a truly good popcorn movie.

Dark Water
Prediction: $28 million
Gross: $25.4 million
Differential: -$2.6 million
This – along with The Fog’s recent flop open – suggests the horror cycle is dead. For now anyway.

Prediction: $32 million
Gross: $31.7 million
Differential: -$0.3 million
Never underestimate the awareness of audiences who can usually tell when a movie sucks.

Mr. and Mrs. SmithPrediction: $59 million
Gross: $185.9 million
Differential: +$126.9 million
How much of this was driven by the tabloid stories of Brangelina?

Fantastic Four

Prediction: $32 million
Gross: $154.2 million
Differential: +$122.2 million
As a corollary to the “never underestimate the awareness of audiences who can usually tell when a movie sucks,” keep in mind that huge advertising dollars can sometimes create just enough buzz to overcome a mediocre movie.

The Pink Panther
Prediction: $29 million
Gross: N/A – release date moved, which isn’t a good sign
Differential: $0

The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants
Prediction: $88 million
Gross: $39 million
Differential: -$49 million

Herbie Fully Loaded
Prediction: $75 million
Gross: $66 million
Differential: -$9 million

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryPrediction: $52 million
Gross: $204.9 million
Differential: +$152.9 million

DominoPrediction: $60 million
Gross: N/A – release date moved, but it opened with a huge flop
Differential: $0

The Dukes of Hazzard
Prediction: $63 million
Gross: $80.1
Differential: +$17.1 million

* Most accurate prediction: the flop Stealth
* Least accurate prediction: the hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
* Total differential: +$285.8 million (or an average of +$23.8 million per movie)


Battlestar Galactica: “Pegasus”

Cool: Check out the ashen look on Roslyn’s face when Adama says to his superior officer, newly-arrived-from-oblivion Admiral Cain “Yes, sir.” Everything just changed, didn’t it, Laura? And probably not for the better. Honorable mention must go to the sneer Adama lets slip when Cain dares to berate Galactica’s crew. We know how much Adama loves his crew.

Cooler: The way Cain’s iron-fisted return makes everything go haywire. It’s one thing to bust Apollo down to Raptor pilot because truth be told, it’s hard to say just how good a CAG he really is when it so often seems that Starbuck is the true badass strategist. But that development is left in the dust by the story turn that sends Helo and Tyrol into a kangaroo court-martial on the Pegasus that summarily slates them for execution. Dude!

Coolest: The way this episode ends (and with it, season two) is utter sci-fi geek nirvana, on a par with the sublimely pants-peeing ending of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s classic cliffhanger “Best of Both Worlds” episode that faded to black right after Picard appeared on-screen as “Locutus of Borg.” Here we have two squadrons of Vipers flying right at each other, seemingly ready to fight to the death in support of their respective commanders. Who needs the Cylons when civil war is so much fun?

Bonus Points: The writers are very sly in this episode, working overtime to create some real sympathy for the mistreated POW Cylons – Caprica-Boomer on Galatica and Six’s double Gina on Pegasus – thus further confusing the rules of engagement and blurring the line between enemy and victim.

Best Line: “I’m getting my men.” – Adama’s angry growl to Cain which leads to the final scene (see “Coolest” above).

Rising: Admiral Cain – Actress Michelle Forbes has always excelled at icy confidence and she’s found a meaty part in Admiral Cain, the kind of merciless leader who shoots people in the head for insubordination.

A lot of "TV," but not much "M"

The L.A. Weekly's Nikki Finke speaks for all disaffected Generation Xers with her recent rant about how ridiculous MTV has become:

Let's talk about the end of civilization as we know it, in this case signified by the rise of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and My Super Sweet 16, the logic-defying successors to the creepy I Want a Famous Face and that scummy Cribs. We feel your pain. We, too, remember when MTV used to be all about the issues — subversive and usually liberal. Now the network is all gab about the glam lifestyles, love triangles, mean girls and staged cat fights on these impossible-to-ignore unreality shows starring spoiled simpletons. We don’t mean to make like the Rev. James Dobson, but we’re certain that the MTV execs who green-lighted these docudramas about socioeconomic excess are headed straight for hell.

Nor are we alone in our thinking. Increasingly, college newspapers everywhere feature angry articles by normal students complaining that the once-worshipped music channel has abandoned its values and is embracing acquisitiveness for the sake of crass commercialism. Consider, for instance, this recent column in the Penn State Daily Collegian: “The saying used to be ‘I want my MTV.’ But for the last few years, all I can say is that I hate my MTV. I wish my friend Holden Caulfield was here. He would tell you how phony, superficial and just plain crappy that network has become. No music and no real substance . . . Does anyone believe money buys happiness? You would if you watched shows like Sweet 16 or Laguna Beach. Gag me with a spoon... MTV has hijacked who we are right now...”

How that writer would have howled had he heard Mr. MTV Network himself (since 1987), Tom Freston, Viacom’s co-president and CEO, boast at a Goldman Sachs global confab on September 21 that his company has created a “hit machine,” which he described as a “consumer-obsessed, terrific, program-development model.” The result is that “We take 25 cents of every dollar that is spent on cable.” Freston may actually believe what he says: that “the philosophy at MTV is constant experimentation, constant pushing the needle.” But to what end? He semi-apologized to the analysts for putting on shows like Cameron Diaz’s Trippin’, which he termed a “pro-environment show essentially.” Said Freston: “We knew it wasn’t going to be a big ratings success. But when we thought in terms of the pro-social part of things we do, and the image part of things we do, it made a lot of sense.” What he didn’t say was the truth: We only ran that show because this really hot celeb who dates Justin Timberlake hosted it. We all know the subtext: Ignore those do-gooder shows MTV throws up as a sop to our audience, and pay attention to our profits.

But MTV’s do-gooder shows are few and far between these days. Once upon a time, MTV meant something. Sure, there was commerce, and lots of it. But there also were milestones, ranging from Live Aid, to Rock the Vote, to the Motor Voter Drive, to anti–status quo news and politics aimed at younger demographics. Meanwhile, one news report this week says CBS boss Les Moonves is considering MTV entertainment chief Brian Graden to sex up CBS News. It's Graden who bears responsibility for all the crap on MTV now, having developed sickening fare like Laguna Beach, The Osbournes, Pimp My Ride, Jackass and Newlyweds.

“I’ll tell you exactly the day the music died on MTV,” former VJ Adam Curry (from 1987 to 1994) told me last week when I called him in London. “It was when the game show Remote Control came on air. It was a tremendous success. People were, metaphorically speaking, running through the hallways because all of a sudden there were major fucking ratings. That was the knife. And after that, they ran Beavis and Butt-head, and so on. It was an understandable decision from a business standpoint.”

Which is why it’s too bad the buzz around Laguna Beach’s second season, which wraps up this month, has made it the ninth highest-rated cable series, with nearly 4 million viewers a week. What a shame that L.B.’s first season on DVD is doing brisk business. How sad that Journey’s golden-oldie song “Don’t Stop Believin’” became one of iTunes’ most downloaded songs after it aired on this season’s premiere. Kind of pathetic that the MTV Overdrive Web site plugs style news from the beach babes, who advise: “Wear oversized sunglasses, the bigger the better.” (No wonder the girls all look like they’re in the Witness Protection Program.) Clearly, this kind of contrived pablum is more palatable when it’s shot with high-tech digital cameras, made to seem like a movie, features surf wear and skimpy sundresses, and stars peroxide bimbos and six-pack-abs himbos. How we hang on every word of the riveting dialogue, like the wasted way that heartbreaker Jason Wahler (yes, these dimwits have last names) keeps responding to every probing question from his series of lovesick girlfriends with a simple “Dunno.”

Determined to kill off still more of our brain cells, MTV just announced a third season of Laguna Beach. In fact, the producers are in the midst of interviewing prospective cast members. Good luck: There’s something like a 20-page application to fill out. (Note to parents: Lock up your teens lest the cameras catch — as they did with Jessica this season — your daughter saying she’s a slut.) For next season, the producers are lobbying for access to the local high school. Not to worry, though: No one’s tampering with the concept. The old gang will come home occasionally to mingle with the new gang. All will swap spit — that is, when they’re not swapping phone numbers for Hollywood agents and publicists.

Yes, it’s sad but true: The entertainment business has spawned yet another brood of infamous no-talents mistaken for iconic figures. Already they’re staring out from magazines (Kristin Cavalleri on the covers of Seventeen and Rolling Stone, Stephen Coletti in a fashion spread in Teen Vogue), signing recording contracts (Talan Torriero and Alex Murrel) and hanging with Lindsay Lohan (at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel). For now, they are 15 minutes of fame away from hitting bottom and begging to take part in the next Reality TV All-Star Reunion Show for dumbed-down Bravo. What this means is that the L.B. airheads have driven north on the 405 freeway and settled in the Los Angeles area to seek stardom. But who wouldn’t dream big after months on end of being followed around by the two to three cameras assigned each cast member?

Kristin’s flack Jack Ketsoyan says she’s taking acting lessons, auditioning for roles and living in Marina del Rey. Talan is sporting a new rocker image, and his forthcoming album should be out next summer. He also has signed with United Talent for acting gigs. And Lauren Conrad (L.C.) is working as an intern for Teen Vogue, while camera crews follow her around Condé Nast’s West Coast bureau. That footage may mean a possible L.B. spinoff or just inclusion in the third season.

As for My Super Sweet 16, MTV has gone out of its way to showcase the most shocking examples of obnoxious teens and their over-doting parents. The result is a world where a coming-of-age party is imitative of Hollywood Babylon, with red carpet and VIP rooms (which exist solely to distance the popular from the not-so-popular in the nastiest way possible). We’re confronted by foul-mouthed scions demanding that their personal fantasies be indulged down to the last detail, no matter if that means horse-drawn carriages, couture clothing or Mercedes/BMW roadsters. Meanwhile, we’re bewildered by this I-wanna-be-a-princess, I-deserve-the-best attitude they all seem to have for simply existing. Who’s to blame: Princess Di? Paris Hilton? Disney movies?

The first Real World featured seemingly spontaneous angst over racism, sexism and homophobia. Now, MTV’s best-watched series has devolved into nothing more substantive than sordid bed-hopping. And Dubya might have been dumb enough to invite Ozzy to dinner at the White House, but we now know the Father Knows Best image MTV gave us of The Osbournes was complete bullshit. Behind the scenes of those palatial digs and those decadent dinners and that compulsive shopping was an entire brood eventually headed to rehab for addictions and eating disorders.

My own disappointment with MTV occurred in 2003 during the run-up to the Iraqi war. That’s when Stephen Friedman, the vice president for public affairs, told me the network was compiling footage both pro and con the invasion for a big hourlong broadcast. It was going to feature young Marines going off to Kuwait, and anti-war activists like Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The old MTV would have gone ahead and made the documentary with a deliberately liberal point of view, conservatives be damned. But again and again, Friedman told me that MTV’s role was to “show all sides” — yet he mischaracterized the anti-war movement as “a small and vocal minority.”

In fact, MTV’s flabbiness on the issues was directly related to the increasing scrutiny that the Federal Communications Commission was giving media companies. No company was a bigger advocate of mergers and acquisitions than Freston’s Viacom at the time, and the FCC had regulatory control over that. But even that paled in comparison to the FCC’s 24/7 decency watch following Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction on that Super Bowl show organized on CBS by — you guessed it — Freston’s MTV. After that mishap, Viacom begged for mercy from the howling right-wing hordes.

At MTV, executives like to say, “We worship at the altar of our audience.” But O.G. VJ Curry, who set up MTV.com in the pre-commercial days of the Internet and is now nicknamed the father of podcasting, wants to know “Just who is MTV’s customer these days: the viewer or the advertiser? Some of the great things you’re talking about that MTV did were actually fought for and put on the air by passionate individuals, who themselves were really talented kids who made it happen, then moved on. And there was compassion for it from an executive level.” Curry sighs, “But those kinds of people aren’t there anymore.”

Instead we have Kristin, and Talan, and Jason, and Alex M. frolicking in Laguna Beach. It’s an appropriate time to remember it was Dante who said, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”


“I’ll read the votes.”

Top Nine Jeff Probst Lines from Survivor

9 “Once the votes have been read the decision is final and the person voted out of the tribe will be asked to leave the tribal council area immediately.” The run-on sentence legalese of Survivor. The use of the word “immediately” makes one wonder what might happen if someone refused to go. It’s bound to happen eventually, right?

8 “I’ll go tally the votes.” Uttered just as Probst steps off camera to confer with the show producers on how to arrange the paper votes in the most dramatic order possible so as to best milk the vote reveal sequence. Instead of seeing that, however, the audience gets instead a series of dramatic cross-dissolves of the Survivors at Tribal Council, most of them staring worriedly into the fire.

7 “Once again, immunity... back up for grabs.” If it’s the tribal immunity idol, Probst might punctuate this line with an emphatic pat of the idol top. But for the individual immunity necklace, he’ll just kind of hang it back up on its bamboo pole.

6 “Previously on... Survivor.” It’s that oh-so-brief, melodramatic pregnant pause between the “on” and the “Survivor” that helps explain why Probst makes the big bucks.

5 (tie) “Come on in, guys.” and “Head on back to camp.” The show invariably uses variations on these Probst-isms to signal the beginnings (Survivors gather together, squinting in the sun) and ends of challenges (one tribe celebrates in slow motion, the other drops their heads in slow motion shame and disgust), respectively.

3 “Survivors ready... go!” Classic Probst, but only if accompanied by that self-serious arm thing.

2 “Want to know what you’re playing for?” This one invariably leads to that week’s clumsy product placement, whether it’s a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos and a sixer of Mountain Dew or an ugly new Pontiac Aztek.

1 "The tribe has spoken.” Followed by the climactic snuffing of a torch by a coconut shell thing that looks like something the Professor would have invented on Gilligan’s Island.

Battlestar Galactica “Flight of the Phoenix”

Cool: Bonus points to the writing staff for even thinking up a term like “Cylon logic bomb.” What is it exactly? It’s never made completely clear. But it sure sounds scary, don’t you think? Not sure Norton Anti-Virus would catch that one.

Cooler: What makes this show so compelling is the smart way it handles the characters. These are some completely ludicrous situations, but the characters’ reactions always feel logical and believable. The best example in this episode may be the cold shoulder and muttered insults Helo gets from the other Viper pilots. Helo’s fallen in love with a Cylon and now he has to deal with some predictably cruel anti-Cylon racism – assuming Cylons are indeed a “race,” a classic sci-fi sociological question (What is “human”?) that deserves a whole other discussion.

Huh?: The bit where Caprica-Sharon communicates with the Galactica virus by shoving a fiber optic cable into her arm is something out of a bad student film. Are they serious with that? Why didn’t she just stick her finger in the nearest electrical outlet?

Best Line: “I don't care who or what he fracks.” – Starbuck’s hard-boiled defense of Helo to the other Viper pilots, who aren’t too keen on his relationship with a Cylon (or, as some Colonials call them, “toasters”).

Rising: Caprica-Sharon – The enemy who unexpectedly goes reverse-Benedict Arnold and turns good is always an interesting character, but all this business with the logic bomb (and her thwarting of the Adama/Apollo assassination on Kobol, for that matter) makes one increasingly wonder how much of this is just a ruse to get the Colonials to trust her. Someone really ought to keep an eye on her.


Make mine a Sprite.

Pop vs. Soda offers a very cool map that examines in detail the geographical idiosyncracies that predispose people from Chicago to call "pop" what someone from San Francisco and New York city would call "soda" and what someone from Dallas might call "Coke."

Okay, this all makes sense, but what to make of that weird pocket of "soda" yellow between Missouri and Illinois in the middle of blue "pop" and red "Coke"?

Battlestar Galactica "Final Cut"

Cool: Thanks to interviews conducted by TV reporter D’anna Biers, we get a few glimpses into the minor characters’ backstories, like learning that poor Dee got into a nasty argument with her father and stopped speaking to him just three weeks before the Cylons attacked. Guilt trip, anyone?
Cooler: Were the Cheese Fry a pathetic loser sci-fi convention nerd, mention would have to be made here of the pleasantly gratuitous scene of sweaty Starbuck pounding a punching bag while wearing a skimpy sports bra. But we’re not, so we won’t.

Coolest: Experiencing the battle between the Vipers and two attacking Cylon Raiders strictly from the claustrophobic POV of the Galactica CIC and hangar crews, everyone intently focused on the static-garbled radio chatter, necks craned to squint dramatically at the display screens to try and get a sense of what was happening out there. Good stuff.

Huh?: Are the Cylons trying to exterminate humanity or procreate with it? It can’t be both, can it? Moments after the Cylon “attack” is foiled, the show cuts to a group of human Cylons who are watching the D’anna footage and squeal with delight to learn that Caprica-Boomer’s baby is still alive.

Best Line: “They’ll put Adama on a pedestal and hang you out to dry” – Ellen Tigh, doing her Lady MacBeth routine again to work Colonel Tigh into a lather over his role in the infamous Gideon Massacre.

Falling: Baltar – Yeah, it was kind of funny to see him pace around nonchalantly near reporter D’anna in a pathetic attempt to get her to notice him and ask him for an interview. But is that kind of goofiness a good fit for this brooding show?

Rising: D’anna Biers – This is one crafty cookie, obligingly pouring Tigh a drink to loosen him up for his sit-down interview with her... and then revealing herself to be a frackin’ Cylon! Extra credit for doing all of this in Lucy Lawless’ Australian accent.