Monday, September 13, 2004

#90. Emmys, Listen Up, Lost, CSI Miami, Wrestling

Some minor notes from Sunday's Emmy's to start things off: Since when did Bradley Whitford become Brad Whitford? And who was Sunday's Mariska Hargitay and what did she do with the usual one? Dang! She cleans up nicely! I mistook her for Jolene Blalock, in fact. The two could be sisters. Maybe one should appear on the other's show and try that. I'd like to see Blalock on SVU, though. After learning Jeri Ryan really was not that great a regular actress in her David E. Kelly incarnation (Boston Public), it was a bit of a letdown. She was a pretty good robot. And Blalock is a pretty good Vulcan, but she doesn't exactly have a grocery list of regular roles to her credit.

Anyhoo, Monday night was the series premiere of Jason Alexander's new show, Listen Up. I haven't found one critic who liked the series, and the favorite reason is that Alexander can't possibly do justice to Tony Kornheiser, the Washington Post and ESPN personality his character is based upon. And you know what? I've never seen Kornheiser in action. I have no idea what he's like. Probably never will. This is the same deal Dave's World had back in the '90's. Harry Anderson was supposed to be playing Dave Barry, the syndicated humor columnist. I doubt very much Anderson or the series captured Barry very well, as the series was more about the typical family sitcom experience than the kinds of things Barry regularly writes about. Yet I wouldn't have traded that series for the world. For one thing, it introduced us to Patrick Warburton.

Listen Up doesn't have a Patrick Warburton, at least not yet. The series focuses around Alexander as a family man whose daughter, as the pilot revolves around, is mortified by her father. Daniella Monet, as that daughter, was called upon to play second billing. She's not a comic find, but she does play the part well. Jason, meanwhile, is more in Bob Patterson mode than George Costanza, and what this means to me is that he's trying for just a bit more nuance in his performance. As my only reference into the Patterson mindset, that series' final episode placed Alexander into what amounted to a theater exchange, the very opposite of anything George would have ever done. This series seems to be taking the same approach. Most of the interaction Tony Kleinman (not to be confused with Kornheiser) has with his talk show cohost Malcolm Jamal-Warner centers around the kind of two-person, sitdown banter I remember from that Patterson exchange. They are not hamming it up. Well, they do when they get to scenes involving the actual talk show, but not to Costanza levels. But that's besides the point. You've got to imagine people would be watching that show for a reason, and most of the time these days it's because the host or hosts are bombastic spazzes.

Jason often speaks his lines almost as if he's embarrassed to be saying them. No, not in that sense. In the sense that he's aware that Kleinman's basic flaw is that he's conceited, and he realizes that. In real life, he's got to pull his punches, or be exasperated in the classic George Costanza mold. Why do I like this series so far? Because it knows what it is. A winning series always does. The question is, will there be an audience, will there ever be one, who will embrace Jason Alexander in a different role? That's this show's main roadblock, and it's already evident by the chilly reception from critics. Thankfully, it arrives on a night mostly populated by other comedic gems, Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men. (The fourth show shall not be named. It's the Show-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named.) So it's got a better chance than most such attempts.

Tonight is the premiere of Lost. Woo! Speed's death Monday on CSI: Miami was moving. Best of luck to Rory in his future endeavors. Speaking of which, Time Magazine doesn't find Joey as hilarious as I do. It feels Matt LeBlanc's transplant has altered the character we remember so fondly from Friends. To which I say. Duh. Shouldn't sitcom characters have a chance to be semblances of real people? And what real people don't change in different company? Joey was usually the idiot in the pack of six because that was the easiest role to fill. He didn't need to pull off Chandler-esque lines because, well, Chandler was there to pull them off. New York Joey (or Joey: New York, for those CSI fans) had a lot less freedom than L.A. Joey, whose social sphere consists of his sister (at some point I hope someone mentions the elephant in the room, say the about dozen other sisters he has, including the one Chandler made out with, whichever one that was), and his nephew. It's a whole new dynamic. I hope he isn't the same guy. It'd be idiotic to just drag over the same characteristics. How could he carry a series? Who would take him seriously? And funny as they're supposed to be, sitcom characters also need to be taken seriously. It's what makes and breaks a series. Well, most of the time. Like the series above, this one might also depend on the transition from one series to another for its star.
And LeBlanc proves he's a star here.

...Damn comparisons...

And now to compare WWE Raw and Smackdown. :D Seriously, though, if The Rock is not currently scheduled to appear on Smackdown's fifth anniversary special this Thursday, could he at least surprise us? The show was named in his honor!

Raw, meanwhile, is going to have...yet...another...PPV, this one hitting Oct. 19, on a Tuesday, when Smackdown is usually taped. It's called Taboo Tuesday and will feature matches made by the fans. Hopefully Smackdown will get one of these at some point too, maybe when it gets some respect. Any respect will do. But Randy Orton is proving to be a scrapper, a constant hound for Evolution and Triple H, and he's got Chris Benoit and Shelton Benjamin to back him up. Besides that, Raw has wisely chosen to use Shawn Michaels in the ongoing Y2J-Christian feud. Very nice. And Kane has got his ongoing saga with Lita. The problem is Raw has nothing else going for it. Maybe that's the whole point of Taboo Tuesday, to give Raw a better sense of what the fans actually want. Hopefully what they want is for something fresh to happen, and by that I don't mean the umpteenth wrinkle in a current storyline. What Raw really needs to a shake-up, a few more stars to be relevant, even to lesser degrees. Raw has no notion of that. It's notion is to use La Resistance, or Maven, or Tajiri, or the Hurricane, randomly and to no cumulative importance, to pad out the program, much like the women's division, which constantly suffers from reiterative creative blah. How many tag team matches can these gals take?

As it looks now, Eddie Guerrero will be meeting Luthor Reigns at No Mercy. This is good news for Eddie, who's remaining far more relevant than Chris Benoit, whose an afterthought in the continuing Evolution domination (Eugene will be fighting Eric Bischoff Oct. 19; maybe this means they still remember him), and great news for Reigns. This guy might finally be starting to go somewhere, about ten times quicker than Batista. And he totally deserves it. JBL and Oz have added Viscera and Gangrel to their staff, which in effect turns the table all the way around on the Undertaker, after his Ministry years, the ones I least enjoyed him, even though it gave us Edge and Christian as well as the APA (not to mention Naked Mideon...come to think of it I probably shouldn't have mentioned it). Gangrel still has one of the best entrance themes in the business, the backword breathing and the drumbeat and all. Viscera was noticeably slow last Thursday, too. I don't expect at least him to be around that long. If this is the kind of stuff Smackdown can do in Raw's shadow, then I'm all for it.

There's a PPV and a house show coming in the weeks ahead. Those will probably be the next two entries in the Scouring Monk, and they come days apart. And as a parting word, folks, go out and watch Arrested Development, already, and while you're at it, Scrubs. These are the kind of shows that are innovating the supposedly stale sitcom model. But if nobody watches them, nobody will know. And shame on the Emmy's for overlooking the latter, yet again. Last night's episode was once again hilarious. Heather Graham is winning newfound respect from me for her guest stint.

#89. Politics, Barack Obama, Wrestling, Tickets to See Wrestling, Last Comic Standing, Boomtown, NCIS, Fall TV Preview

Because you can't be more patriotic than the Patriotic Party.

What's that? Oh, just toiling with an idea or two. Everyone's saying that the National Conventions, as recently held by both the Democrats and the Republicans, have become irrelevant. Their basis for this claim is that the purpose for the conventions has been to formally nominate each party's presidential nominee, and since that is obviously done long before the conventions nowadays, what's the point of the pomp and circumstance? Well, here's an idea on that: Yes, we no longer have to wait until the conventions to learn who the nominees will be. The primaries, the caucuses, they take care of that. But what the conventions offer is a platform for the parties, to give a State of the Party address whose natural conclusion is reached by a speech from their presidential candidates. Think about it. This year the Democrats made a big deal of bringing Barrack Obama into the national spotlight, while the Republicans gave California's obscure governor a national spotlight of his own. The speeches highlighting each party's impending agenda (by which most recognize as mostly the opposite of what the other party is planning, at least in terms of symantics), and as they try to elevate the standing of the presidential nominee they also bolster the image of their own party, the Party of Past, Present and Future (come to think of it, both conventions could easily use PoPPP as their slogan, and could carry on using the same kind of rallying music as before to boot, all the while shaking like a Polaroid picture).

Anyhoo, just a thought...Last night was WWE Raw's Unforgiven pay-per-view (Smackdown's No Mercy drops on Oct. 3, the early date of which has me wondering if Raw is going to shoehorn another HHH, I mean PPV on the market). Chris Benoit and William Regal got to start the show off by defeating Ric Flair and Batista. I can think of at least two participants in that match who could have used singles action on the card instead of a meaningless tag team match. (For that matter, why was it Benoit, and not Eugene, who was in this thing?) Tell me Raw had enough time for this PPV, and I'll tell you something else. This night could easily have been a better-planned Smackdown affair. But I digress. Maybe it was a great match and maybe that was he whole point. Benoit and Flair has to be worth the price of admission, right? In any computation? I guess...

Then continues the saga of Evolution Lite, I mean Christian, Trish Stratus, and Tyson Tomko, who like the original Team E got a few months wasted away while members served in Injury Limbo. Lite's return has me wondering if there was a point to this threesome all along, and that's why it was so important to strike the band back up once all the players were in place again. Stratus retained against Victoria in a match that was months in coming but delayed this long while Trish squatted on the sidelines with a title she should technically have been stripped of. Could Raw not come up with compelling womens division action without her? Really? Tomko also got to beat up Stevie Richards in yet another bizarro guise worthy of Harvey Wippleman, which possibly put Tomko over as at least a Mordecai-level brute! Woo! The point for now seems to be that Trish is switching her affections from Christian to Thrasher, I mean Tomko. Maybe it won't suck too much...

I got tickets for the Portland, ME (as opposed to the Or. variety, from which parts this PPV originates), and Edge was advertized as defending his Intercontinental championship against Batista. (I intend to publish results here.) I guess that's not going to happen, since he was, what? stripped of his title due to injury. That cleared the way for a ladder match between Chris Jericho and Christian, who will have worked through every gimmick match in their endless feud by the end of the year. Jericho picked up the win and the championship in no doubt what was a thrilling match come months late because of sidelined stars. Next time: midget tag team partners!

But the end of that feud may have come: a promo after it featured Edge threatening Jericho, who is apparently a record seven-time Intercontinental champion now. Like I said, from one brother to another...

Another feud-held-in-the-making (how many people like Goldsworthy will be complaining about this like they did with Angle-Guerrero?) saw Kane battle Shawn Michaels in his return. This one was as much about unwedded bliss and treacherous Litas as it was about the match itself. HBK is a trucker this year, no doubt. Is he really destined in this push to run with HB Cade? And will that really be worth it? Only time...

Next came La Resistance (now with spelling changes in their name!) defending their tag team titles against Tajiri and Rhyno. This is a match that has been so long in the making it's embarrassingly obvious Raw has no idea what to do with its tag team division (in stark contrast to the furtile grounds of Smackdown). And for all the effort put into creating the contending team...Sylvain Grenier and Robert Conway still walk out the champions...

And for the main event...Randy Orton, defending the World heavyweight title he won from Chris Benoit last month, two months removed from another effort from Triple H to recapture the title from the Rabid Wolverine, lost the Triple H. There isn't even an effort to disguise it. Triple H is the only man Raw wants to have as its champion. Sure, it's had Shawn Michaels, Goldberg, Chris Benoit, and now Randy Orton interludes, but Hunter Hurst-Helmsley's (I should say, Jean-Paul Levesque-McMahan) domination continues. I can only imagine how this is supposed to feel competitive. I hear all the time about the great, long, reigns of years past, of how great those champions were. I can't imagine anything less truly competitive. You break the fourth wall every time you create a champion like that. you say, we've found the guy we want to be champion, and there's no one out there who's good enough to defeat him, by which we mean there's no one else we really want to be champion. This guy's our man.

The fans complain all the time about how RVD never gets his due, how he's always being kept down. And maybe so. I don't think he's got even JBL-size potential to be a compelling champion. He'd be another Triple H, a guywho's champion because of the transparent reality that he was given the title for some popularity rating or another. Great champions aren't manufactured, they're born. Chris Benoit was a guy people rallied around, Eddie Guerrero was another. They brought meaning to their reigns. So has JBL, a guy nobody wants to see as champion, a sentiment shared with Triple H, though in a different, unflattering way. Hunter hasn't let anyone else flourish in all this time. He's done his best to make sure no one can size up to him, thereofr creating the false impression that no one can size up to him. I love the guy, I think he's a gift to wrestling, but he's overwhelmed the realm of credibility in his smothering tactics. Evolution is the first thing that needs to go. Thankfully this deconstruction has already begun with Orton's defection. Batista is the next that must be cut loose. He's been held back exponentially by his association with the stable. He never gets to do anything meaningful as a singles star because he's got his obligations to Evolution. To thrive, and he could probably be Triple H's next credible challenger if this happened, Batista must be set free.

Smackdown has a similar situation with Luthor Reigns, but he's only been around since April or so, and Thursdays have allowed him to peform the duel taks of serving Kurt Angle and developing his own interests slowly but surely. This past Thursday he was the last guy who stood up to the returning Big Show. The week previous to that, he attacked Eddie Guerrero, and not to Angle's pleasure. That's a character development. As far as Show is concerned, Reigns is like a surrogate Brock Lesnar (practice squad Viking, but that's still good considering the odds), the brute who can and will stand up to him, challenge his illusion of total dominance, which the arena massacre was meant to demonstrate. With Angle returning as a full-time wrestler, Reigns is needed less and less. For the talk of Angle becoming another Triple H, that would never happen in a million years. The Olympian has always been a Rock-style champion, amassing championships of short Reigns, I mean reigns that establish him as a perennial threat to the champion but never a dominating one. He's the biggest fish in Smackdown, but there are plenty other good-sized fishes in the pond. Unlike the Triple H-HBK feud that marked much of Hunter's early Raw dominance (and again this year), the Angle-Guerrero feud is more even-handed. Not to mention the pup waiting in the wings in the championship scene, John Cena, is already far more seasoned than Randy Orton, who missed valuable developing time to injury and got Evolution to do the rest for him. And there's Big Show, Undertaker, JBL, Luthor Reigns...Smackdown has competition in its ranks mostly because it's the underdog, I guess.

And that status has done nothing but allow those sticking around to appreciate JBL's reign as champion to savor it all the more. Last Thursday our champion wrestled Charlie Haas, who is fast overtaking Shelton Benjamin in the developing all-around talent race (and by that, I mean who's to become the next Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle) thanks to injuries once more. So JBL is not an especially memorable wrestler past his Close-line from Hell. But he's still a heck of a presence. It certainly doesn't hurt that he's given Orlando Jordan relevance. Good news for Bradshaw is good news for Oz (as I believe he was mistakenly called by JBL; I'll not pass the opportunity to grant him a nickname better than OJ), which is only more good news for Smackdown. They make an exceptional pair, with their chemistry. I love their bit about what town they're in. It's a small, but amusing joke. I hope they keep it up.

Speaking of tandems, Kenzo Suzuki and Rene Dupree became Smackdown tag team champions after the continuing saga of Billy Kidman's lost faith cost him and Paul London the titles (and maybe the FBI will be Suzuki and Dupree's next opponents?). This gives the new champs something meaningful, not to mention gold, to further their own immediate (and lucrative) futures with while also pushing Kidman into relevance again. Maybe he'll finally become a man. Anyhoo, it'll probably give us a really good match between himself and London. Dupree, who escaped Raw tag team hell to Smackdown singles glory (for a while, as he figured prominently in Cena's US title defenses for much of the year), doesn't come off worse for wear by having to maintain his presence in another tag team. He's proven his singles worth, and the good thing about teaming with Suzuki is that their styles are nothing alike. Each can further their own goals in this tag team combination and not lose a step in their development of singles careers.

Speaking of units, there's the Dudleys, who're starting to misfire. Give these guys direction already! This was the second week in a row Rey Mysterio was forced into a defacto six-man tag team match, and this time it was mostly do to the directionlessness of Spike, D-Von, and Bubba. This time Mysterio received the totally unexplained assistance of Hardcore Holly, as well as Rob Van Dam. This feud could just as easily be on Raw! And include Chris Benoit!

Cena-Booker T, the series of 5 folk, are gearing up to the pivotal fourth match. Booker has won the last two (one of them at an Australian house show!), meaning Cena must (and probably will) win this one, setting up, most likely, the deciding match Oct. 3 at No Mercy. Five years ago, a series like this made Booker's singles career when he battled Chris Benoit over the same title in WCW. Now, in 2004, he's got something else to prove. He's still worthy of such a high profile. Cena's on the rise, while Booker has an upper-midcard status to maintain that could always propel him to the top if he plays his cards right. He's definitely doing that right now. Considering the unnamed stakes, this is perhaps the feud of the year. And it has a lot more structure than anything on Raw beyond the Eugene saga. These feuds have as much to do with the matches as the heat between the competitors outside the ring. Y2J and CLB have plenty of heat both ways, but it's been steaming away the reasons for most of the feud. Guerrero-Angle, which will probably conclude before long, has gotten things right and have parlayed a series of false endings to magnificant effect.

Was last night a false ending to the Triple H-Orton feud? Is Orton really the downfall of Hunter, or just another step in a long march?

A less serious contest of champions is going on in NBC's Last Comic Standing, version III going on now which pits the first and second seasons against each other. I gotta say, I love Dat Phan, whom I missed last year because I never really got into that season. But this year's has a bunch of comics I love, including Gary Gulman, Alonzo Bodden, and Jay London. I'm also won of Ant's few fans ("It doesn't take Scooby Doo to solve this mystery," even repeated ad nauseum, is still amusing, and catchy). LCS and Scrubs are Tuesday appointments! Speaking of the new season, I caught most of last night's premiere of Jack and Bobby and I didn't mind what I saw. It has possibilities, is all. I also caught some of Neal McDonough's new show, Medical Investigation the other night. In related news, the first season of Boomtown is out on DVD. Savor this series! There's but a third of a season more. Entertainment Weekly called MI NBC's apology to Neal. He hopefully won't be disappointed for accepting it. The best thing I can say is that it's better than NCIS (I think the "Navy" part was finally dropped), which spoiled Michael Weatherly...

TV Guide teased its fall previews two weeks ago by releasing an edition splotlighting stars of news series who'd be failure from old ones. This week they finally print the Returning Shows edition, and next week the Fall Preview. I already have a good idea of the new season, but collecting those issues has become a tradition, and I think they do a good job with them. Shows I'm excited about include Lost, Desperate Housewives, Joey (great premiere last Thursday, btw), Boston Legal (Spader and Shatner make a terrific duo), Kevin Hill, and CSI:NY.

I think that'll do for now...


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