Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The plot of every episode of Cold Case ever

Kathryn Morris is 1) the whitest actress to ever be on television and 2) what Avril Lavigne will look like in her 30s.

I'm a big fan of Cold Case on TNT, although "big fan" might not be the best term for it. Frankly, it's formulaic approach to episodes is somewhat comforting, and for some reason, I get plenty of work done when watching it. Also, yes, I am aware that it was on some network before TNT, but that's the only place I ever see it. Therefore, to me, TNT "owns" the show.

Basically, in terms of formula, every episode of Cold Case follows a sort of pattern. In 3/4 of the episodes, you have someone struggling against the tide of the flashback.

For example, if the episode is set in 1940s Philadelphia, then we have a white guy fighting against his neighbors, who are trying to demonize some Japanese-Americans. Anything in the 1960s has the obvious civil rights issues. They had an episode set in a high school detention in 1994, which was essentially just a remake of The Breakfast Club.

The stories are pretty much all generic and uplifting. The Philly homicide cold case division isn't doing much to solve murders of Nazi members, you know. Most episodes serve as an excuse for Detective Lilly Rush, a.k.a. the whitest person alive, to either be tough or tender.

The remaining quarter of the episodes are somehow related to the cold case squad. Because this is television, all of them are really screwed up. I'm serious, by the way - Every single character is really flawed, to an unbelievable degree. Going down the list:

- Lilly was apparently molested as a little kid. Also, her mom abandoned her. Also also, her sister is a massive skank who slept with one of her co-workers (more on him in a second) and is on the run from New York police in several episodes.

- The Stern White Boss (I never remember his name; he's just a copy of other boss archetypes anyway) has never had a clean friend in the police force. I'm serious; any time one of his pals shows up, it means they're dirty or crooked.

- Will the Black Dude is probably the best of a bad lot. He still flies into a rage and punches a slimy district attorney, and also, his wife was killed in a hit and run, and the identity of the driver becomes a major plot point for some episodes.

- Along similar lines, Scotty Valens' ex-girlfriend slash hooker witness commits suicide by jumping into a river. Well, okay, maybe she was murdered. We're not sure. (I haven't seen every episode.) Valens is also the one who hooks up with Lilly's sister, which is nice of him. One of his first girlfriends shown by the show? A Colombian drug mule.

- Nick Vera is a drunk white cop who's wife dumps him in season one or two. He then dates a sassy black lady (more on her in a bit), and also has creepy affections on victims. Like one lady he goes after is a high school crush who comes in about her sister's murder years ago. Again, really happy stuff.

Despite all those issues, I still kind of like the show. It hits all of the bare minimum qualities of the detective show genre for me, so I let it fill up my DVR. This "base quality" thing isn't that surprising, since it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. While he doesn't have a ton of critical successes, the guy knows how to make a presentable product.

Also, one weird thing about Cold Case - it really loves it actors used by other shows. I don't recall it dipping much into the Law and Order pool, but plenty of people from The Wire did guest spots, most noticeably, Greggs. It feels odd seeing her play the tough-as-nails (and straight!) love interest of Nick Vera for a few episodes. Kima Greggs, I feel odd watching you harassing him over a basketball.

However, the most inexplicable bit of double-casting is… Sandy Martin, a.k.a. Mac's mom from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In Always Sunny, she plays a grizzled old lady who ignores her son for the most part. In Cold Case, she plays a grizzled old lady who was a single teenage mother who killed her best friend over a baby. She, uh, needs a better agent, because there roles are pretty damn depressing.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mailbag: Wiig, Baggage and Other Crap

So, I've gotten some questions and comments while I've been gone. Doing my best to sum them up…

Q: Hey, how come you hate Kristen Wiig so much?

A: The weird thing is that I kind of don't as much anymore. Since I wrote about wanting to get her fired from Saturday Night Live, they have been using her in radically less skits. (Obviously, the writers and producers over there are big time fans of Stephen On Stuff.)

I still find a lot of her characters, like the neurotic K-Mart clerk and the neurotic Lawrence Whelk Show lady and the neurotic every character in every sketch lady, very annoying. However, when they have her play an actual human being, she's pretty decent. (Still, they need to use Jay Pharaoh more.)

An odd offshoot of all of this is that Wiig apparently has a huge following with younger girls. I got at least two e-mails from angry 14-year-olds, who proclaimed that Wiig is God's gift to comedy. The reference I was making to Lorne Michaels and The Beatles kind of went completely over their heads.

Q: When is The Baggage Game coming back? Do you still watch?

A: I had to put my viewing on hold for a bit, just because I wasn't blogging at all, and my DVR access was a bit limited. However, I do still watch Baggage, and I've started to queue up some episodes for review. I'll probably resume this coming week.

It's weird to me how much pull this show has, and I'm glad that they're still doing new episodes. Springer is just so god damn awesome on it. Also, it seems like my blog is the definitive source for it, oddly enough. From the Model Mayhem board, it seems like they had an encounter with one of the dudes, and a couple other people have found some older entries.

Q: What the heck do you do each day now anyway?

A: In case you missed the earlier entries, or you just managed to find this one, I'm currently an editor and reporter for Narragansett Patch (hence the widget on the side). The job does keep me pretty busy writing, which is why my output on here was so diminished. However, I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things.

When I'm not writing, I enjoy a wide variety of activities. Lately, this has mostly consisted of taking care of my 17-year-old cat, playing PS3, sleeping and kickball. Yes, kickball. Which is where I'm headed to now as I write this, nine hours before it posts, so see ya.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Surveying the Scene (It Landscape)

I’m pretty tough to play trivia games against. By that, I mean that my friends tend to get frustrated, since I continually answer obscure and random questions. Back when one of my friends had a Trivial Pursuit 1990s edition, I had to answer all the questions on a single card in order to get a pie piece.

I attribute my success to a past drenched in pop culture and reading when I should have been accumulating actual knowledge. Instead of learning things like Biology and Chemistry, I was normally more interested in reading books about the fight for late night between Leno and Letterman after Carson, or about how Miramax rose from a seedy re-cutter of films to an actual Hollywood powerhouse. When it comes to games like Trivial Pursuit, this knowledge is useful, but I tend to be an iffy Jeopardy! player.

My supernatural skills raised their head again this past week, when I was dominating a game of Scene It Second Edition trivia. Sure, I had never played before, but why should that stop me from doing really, really well?

The rules of the game help a player of my talents. Because a good portion of the questions are free-for-alls, I was able to out-answer a couple of the other players. It also helped that I was the oldest person playing, at 27. (That still doesn’t explain why I was able to answer questions about “Fast Eddie” Felson, since that movie came out in 1961.)

In contrast, I really struggled when we played Pass The Popcorn. It’s essentially Trivial Pursuit with just movie questions, but you can really minimize a better player because of the categories. (Basically, you’re allowed to swap category cards each time it’s your turn. This meant that people would just keep swapping until they didn’t have a card that matched mine or my friend Lisa’s, the other strong player in the game.)

Also, this whole post reminds me that I still haven't found anyone to play Scene It SNL or Simpsons against me. I have both games, but challengers have been tough to come by. Curses.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Inexplicably Wasting Time with Flash Games

I’ve been on a kick with flash games lately, for no particular reason. It is a taste I will acquire from time to time, typically while waiting for more commercial games to either be released or end up in my hands. (For the record, Disgaea 4 can’t come out soon enough, even though I still haven’t even played the poorly-reviewed third installment.)

The best flash games I typically play involve some tongue-in-check humor. For example, Rebuild has you rebuilding with other survivors after the zombie apocalypse. It’s a pretty standard grid-based, turn-based strategy game, but it has multiple endings and a fun amount of randomization. Each game lasts a couple hours, and I’ve played a couple times, enough to get all the badges on Kongregate.

Also high on my list is The Space Game, and its sequel, Missions. Both are simple resource allocation slash tower defense games, except, of course, IN SPACE. If the Muppets have taught me anything, it is that things frequently improve whilst in space, such as Pigs in Space.

I think the simplicity of all three of the aforementioned games snares me in. One of my all-time favorite games is Warpath, which is a fairly forgettable resource management game. It came out for Windows 3.1, and despite a new edition in 2000, it still looks and plays pretty much exactly the same as then.

The game is incredibly repetitively, which makes for a calming rhythm – You mine empty planets, and then put colonists on them. They make money for you, which you can use in a variety of ways: buy weaponry to take over enemy planets, turn them over to your side by buying influence, or invest the money back into your own home planets. The whole thing was basically a very basic version of Master of Orion, or a streamlined, not-crappy version of the space portions of Spore.

The odd thing about all of this is that I’m now far more into various casual games than when I was paid to review them for one of my friend’s sites. And speaking of that, it is weird to see snippets of my reviews from years ago used to poorly cite articles on Wikipedia, like here.
The Rebuild photo comes from this site.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Curious Case of My Playstation 3 and L.A. Noire

I have quickly become attached to my PS3, although “quickly” might be too kind of a word. After it took me about two months to actually set it up – for the aforementioned “busy at work” issue – I powered through Final Fantasy 13 and a few other games in short order.

Although my experience is limited to about a dozen games, the crowning jewel of the system is Mass Effect 2. I understand from others that it might originally be a 360 game, or some sort of Microsoft product. However, every aspect of it is just so goddamn good that I could careless if it secretly came out for the NES in 1989. As they used to say on the NBC Must See TV commercials for when the shows were on repeats, if I haven’t played it, it’s new to me!

I also had a strong experience with, of all things, a Magic: The Gathering card game. I never played the actual card game, and I doubt I’d be interested, since the aspect of physically collecting and paying for all of the cards in a deck would probably cause my mind to explode from the expense involved. Confession: I’m also pretty Dungeons and Dragons and tabletop and card game averse. For whatever reason, those sorts of games have never clicked with me. However, MTG for PS3 was surprisingly playable.

The one stark disappointment so far has been with L.A. Noire, which I had to return via GameFly after a couple miserable days. Console gaming has finally caught up to PC gaming in one very annoying aspect – glitches and software / hardware conflicts.

L.A. Noire simply refuses to play in my PS3 for an extended time period. From online threads, it apparently is a fairly buggy game in general, and the problem could be the internal laser in my PS3, improper ventilation, a problem with the game’s file system, or the lack of proper positioning when it comes to my birth symbol and Zodiac stone.

Given the myriad of potential issues, I don’t really feel the need to bring my PS3 in for servicing. For starters, this would probably cost me money. I also still have a slew of games I need to get to – I’m halfway through Infamous, I haven’t started playing God of War III even though it was a pack-in game, and I have a couple other intriguing games still on my GameFly list.

On a more fundamental level, what little I had played of L.A. Noire was also pissing me off. For the uninitiated, the game is essentially L.A. Confidential 2, if it was a video game. You go around catching criminals and interrogating witnesses, which is great fun in theory.

In practice, for every statement a witness gives you, you have three options – truth, doubt or lie. You can normally determine their shiftiness by looking at their facial movements and tics. Truth is self-explanatory, but doubt and lie are far too similar in the context of the game. When you use “lie,” you have to use a piece of evidence to screw over the witness, but frankly any context that you could use “lie” in, “doubt” would work just as well. Therefore, it’s a coin flip as to which one you actually have to use in any given interrogation.

Even through just the five or six investigations I had done, this was highly annoying. So, when I got to a game-destroying bug – complete freezing during the case of a Hollywood starlet and a movie producer – I just got too annoyed to attempt any of the mystical Witch Doctor PS3 workarounds described above. Back it went to GameFly, and I await a better game that my PS3 and I can love unconditionally.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Subway Virgins

Subway is now such a presence in everyday life that it seems silly to me when people are confused at one. There is a very specific order to every order: Bread type, meat, cheese, to toast or not to toast, toppings and dressings.

However, when I’m using my laptop at the store from time to time, I am reminded that for some, this is their first visit. This is especially interesting when the people act as if they have never had a sandwich made for them in their life.

Example: As I sit here typing this, there are four senior citizens ordering sandwiches. At first, I didn’t think anything was going to come of this, as they seemed quite upset that they couldn’t get a seafood salad sandwich at Subway.

Two of the group persevered though, and decided they would get a foot-long ham sandwich and a foot-long roast beef. From there, things got interesting, as each new decision seemed to bewilder them more and more. One complained that there was too much veggies on his sandwich, which for me is the only reason to go to Subway – If you actually want a decent amount of meat on your sandwich, go buy some deli meat from the store.

Before this day, I wouldn’t have thought that a sandwich purchase was a life and death decision, but for some, it clearly holds great significance. A wrong decision is one that will bring forth the Wrath of God (capital letters).

The whole experience reminded me of my days at Dunkin’ Donuts, when the elderly were also a wonderful (read: not at all wonderful) demographic. Some truly were excellent individuals, and they were more likely to ask how my day was going, and actually seem sincere about it.

However, more were just miserable people, or barely functioning. You know, like the lady who just rolled by the drivethru window with her hand out her car window, because she couldn’t operate the car and the window at the same time. The correct coffee was also a life or death decision, and if it was screwed up, it was of course an error on the server, as opposed to the 75-year-old who wants to haggle with you about the times when coffee only cost 50 cents, and about how the servers would sling it at you with a smile while they also white walled your car tires.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

An Ongoing Struggle of Dedication

The weird thing about my blog is that the readership numbers (allegedly) continue to grow even as I don't blog as much. A less vain writer would take this as an indictment of his writing ability, but after running my own news site for (almost) a year, I realize that there is a lot of value in an extensive back catalog. (In a true sign of the height of my own vanity, I often find myself clicking through past entries I've done, thanks to the “You Might Like...” prompting at the bottom of each of my entries.)

Anyway. My own effort on this has wavered, obviously. I've almost restarted about five times in the ensuing, unplanned five month vacation of mine from writing. In fact, it's bizarre to look back at my last entry to realize that the last time I wrote was the first week I got my cat, which has now been with me for three months. (As a status update on the cat, he really enjoys my new apartment much more, since the windows are much lower to the ground and he can perch there. He's still really, really old.)

At least for now, there should be posts queued up for these next two weeks – another one on Thursday, and Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week. Beyond that, I'll have to see. If I continue writing, it will probably be on more evergreen topics, since the demands of work often don't leave me with time to do posts on the fly. I'm still a big fan of my workplace and what not, but it does take a full 40 to 50 hours a week, as compared to past journalism jobs, where I did get a bit more time to coast. (On the plus side, there are few things more joyous to me than being able to set my own hours.)

Addressing some of the comments that piled up in my absence: People are really quite into Kristen Wiig. I haven't seen Bridesmaids, but I kind of want to – it looks funny. However, to refine my earlier arguments on Wiig, it's not that I don't think she's funny. I just think she's way, way overused on Saturday Night Live. It's a habit Lorne Michaels can lapse into at times; some of the Jimmy Fallon years, he is in every single sketch too. But now that he has his own show and the humor isn't as forced, I've come to enjoy him much more. I imagine Wiig will be the same thing – I'll probably like her “Best Of” DVD, and whatever future endeavors she's into.


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