Sunday, February 12, 2006

Development Arrested

Sometimes, life just isn’t fair.

More specifically, sometimes great television shows unfairly get the axe entirely too soon. I felt this way my sophomore year of college, when my favorite show was unequivocally “Family Guy,” but I could never figure out what night the damn show was on and therefore couldn’t watch it. In February of 2002, the show was cancelled for the second time due to lack of viewership.

“Family Guy” got lucky though; because of the show’s successful syndication on Cartoon Network and the DVD box sets beaking all kinds of sales records, an entirely new audience for the cult hit spawned, and the Fox network brought it back in the spring of 2005. My gut feeling is that a similar revival won’t be occurring for my favorite show over the last three years (strangely enough, picking right up where “Family Guy” was forced to leave off), “Arrested Development.”

To appreciate “Arrested,” one must not only have an above-average intelligence, but also an intimate understanding of the characters (which truthfully, can only be obtained through viewing the show from episode one) and an appreciation for allusion and entendre. It’s a show based off good, smart humor, and I’m really bummed out that the show is over.

I’m even more bummed out that Fox shafted the sitcom for the entire third and final season. Halfway through, the network shortened the order from 22 episodes to 13, airing nine of those immediately, then waiting almost six weeks to air the final four in ONE NIGHT. Just back-to-back-to-back-to-back. The show was forced to jam all of the plot twists they would’ve laid out over nine episodes into the four they were given, so everything felt very rushed and forced. In any event, I’ll have three wonderful box sets to enjoy for the rest of my life. To show my children, even.

Unless Showtime picks up the show as rumored (though unlikely—apparently it all depends on creator Mitch Hurwitz), I’ll have watched my last episode. So where do I go from here? The following are my Top 5 Arrested Development Rebound Shows, in order from least favorite to most:

5. “My Name is Earl” (NBC Thursdays, 8:00). This one stars Jason Lee (most notably known for his roles in the Kevin Smith movies) as a lower-class white trash loveable loser who learns about karma and looks to correct a list of all the horrible things he’s done in his life. It also stars Ethan Suplee (the fat poetic bully from “Boy Meets World”) as Earl’s simpleton brother Randy, who honestly is the funniest character in the show. The writing is really good, and it’s got some star power (Jaime Pressley is in it, too), making it a more than affable viewing experience.

4. “Prison Break” (FOX, returns in March). I’ll explain it this way: the Chicago White Sox only lost one game in the 2005 playoffs, but for that entire one game, my stomach felt as if it were harboring a colony of killer bees and rabid marmosets fighting over territory. This show creates the exact same sensation every single episode. The premise is that a Michael Scofield’s brother has been falsely put onto Death Row, so Scofield gets himself arrested and plans on using his knowledge of the prison to break his brother out (This works because Scofield helped build the prison—he has the blueprints tattooed on his body). It’s highly addictive, and I guarantee that it will grab your interest after watching only one or two episodes.

3. “Scrubs” (NBC Tuesdays, 8:00 and 8:30). In the movie of my life, I think I’d cast Zach Braff to play me, and anyone who watches this show would probably agree that you see a little bit of Joel in the character of J.D. From what I understand, this is pretty far from an accurate portrayal of life in a hospital, but I laugh out loud at least one time per episode. Dr. Perry Cox (one of the Bobs from “Office Space”) is by far my most beloved character, ripping on every single character on the show. Insults are my favorite.

2. “24” (Fox Mondays, 8:00). I don’t want any of you emailing me spoilers to the current season, because Li’l Bro and I are only about 2/3 of the way through Season 2. I’ll tell you what, though—this show is high energy, high drama, high violence, and most importantly, high extremity. There are times when I want to BE Jack Bauer, who is probably the single most badass television character of all time. I even had a dream recently that I worked for CTU and that I had to stop some assassination attempt. I did. It was ubar.

1. “The Office” (NBC Thursdays, 8:30). Steve Carrel of “The Daily Show” and “40-Year Old Virgin” fame is probably the single most hilarious sitcom protagonist (or antagonist, depending on how you look at it) on television today. His sadly self-centered, “hey-look-at-me” personality is good for several belly laughs an episode, and there’s times where you even feel a little sorry for the guy. Other characters Dwight (the nerdy kiss-ass in the office) and Jim (who reminds me very much of Cole Lauterbach—I swear you could mix Jim and Chandler of “Friends,” and you’d have Cole. Seriously) lead a supporting cast chocked-full of hilarity themselves. It’s the funniest show (left) on television.

If you’re like me, and you’re going to really miss “Arrested Development,” you may need to soothe yourself by watching some of these shows. None of them will ever replace our crazy Bluth family, but they will have to do.

Now, we keep our fingers crossed for Cinemax to come through.

Come on, Cinemax…

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Sugar Cereal's Return to Respectability

My parents believed in healthy children, which of course pissed all of us children right off.

See, they kept most sugar cereals out of the house in favor of such breakfast favorites as Cheerios, Raisin Bran, and freakin’ Corn Flakes. There’s no worse feeling as a kid than seeing your mother come home with several bags of groceries, only to bust out one of the Big Three Cereal Duds listed above.

And somehow, we always thought that eating these healthier cereals was in our best interests. I actually felt dirty indulging in a giant bowl of Fruity Pebbles when staying overnight at a buddy’s house. Hell, I remember being 14 years old at a week-long basketball camp and overstuffing my gullet with about seven pounds of Cocoa Puffs every morning I was there. As advertised, I did feel the symptoms of “coo-coo” after each breakfast. I then understood how people could do drugs.

These cereals were a double-edged spoon—not only were they delicious (by which I mean 78% pure sugar), but they also included toys in the box, which usually caused epic hostilities between my siblings and me. To be honest, I’m not sure I can remember a single item I took from within the delectable depths of those multi-colored cardboard havens of delight, but I do know getting that toy always—without fail—made me inexplicably happy for at least 24 hours without ease.

Which is why I was upset to see more and more cereal companies disclude the in-the-box toys over the years in favor of the save-up-7-UPCs-and-send-$3.99-for-shipping toys. By the time this became common practice, I was old enough to know that it was simply a scheme for Post, Kellogg’s, and General Mills to make more money. See, instead of getting one toy for every one box of cereal sold, kids could only get one toy for ever 37 boxes of cereal purchased. AND they had to pay shipping! That’s like having to go to McDonald’s 13 times to take your Happy Meal toy off layaway.

This morning, however, I noticed an unexpected throwback to the past in my breakfast bowl. See, as an adult, I’m over-compensating for my parents’ refusal to ever buy a cereal with more taste value than a packing peanut. I eat Crunch Berries and Froot Loops now, partly because I never was able to as a child, but also because with modern nutritional technology, these cereals are just as healthy as The Duds (Seriously! I can’t find anything in the nutrition facts to set them apart anymore! How glorious!).

But I’m digressing—What I found this morning made me smile: a toy in my cereal box! Dammit it all if Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes hasn’t been doing promotions with children’s CGI movies and sticking “Ice Age 2” ice sliders (whatever the hell that actually IS) in their boxes! A few weeks ago, the same cereal yielded me a Chicken Little bobblehead! Now, of course I have little use for these things now, but it’s the principal of it all that really matters. Now, new generations of sweet-toothed young people can experience the same excitement I did when opening a fresh box of sugar cereal!

Sweet-toothed young people that have parents unlike mine, that is. I’m sure there are those of you who will share my fate and only be given a precious box of said cereal once every several leap years. If this should be the case, don’t be discouraged; someday, like me, you will be 23 and have your own income. Then you, too, will be able to responsibly shop in any grocery store and pick out your OWN food like an adult.

Unfortunately, I can give you no further advice on the topic because my afternoon cartoons start in about three minutes.

Monday, February 06, 2006

My Startling Confession

For those of you that thought you really knew me, I have a startling confession to make: I was a member of my high school show choir.

And I’m not even going to water this down the way head church parishioners dilute that “orange drink” to only about 12 percent “drink;” I participated in this activity for three years, I was the student director my senior year, and I even went to a show choir summer camp in 1999 (which actually wasn’t that bad. The girl-to-boy ratio was about 5:1 in the first place, and once you factored out all of the homosexuals, it was more like 37:1. This meant that I virtually had my pick of the litter. I had more girls there than Hugh Heffner at a Kenny Chesney concert).

And really, I can’t complain because my show choir experiences are part of what got Amy interested in me. She, too, was a show choir minion—attended the camp and the whole deal—and that shared memory sparked some of our earliest conversations. How could it not? Show choir boasts one of the most eccentric groups of participants, fans, and vicarious-living parents in the history of high school extracurricular activities.

I was reminded of all this on Saturday when I escorted Amy to the Midwest Classic in Danville, a local show choir tradition held at The Girl’s old high school (also the alma mater of Jerry and Dick van Dyke. Extreme). She really loved this stuff when she was still part of all the hoopla, and she hadn’t gone back to attend in a couple of years. She (we) had an excuse this time around because her little cousin was performing. So, go we did…

The school was packed tighter than Best Buy on the day after Christmas, and young teen girls romped through the hallways while their hair (real and otherwise) galloped along behind them like curly blonde steeds. These poor girls also have to wear about seven pounds of makeup, in which the process of application includes a brief 15 minute facial baking in a conventional oven set at 450 Degrees Fahrenheit. They come out looking vaguely similar to test subjects for Homer Simpson’s makeup gun.

My own personal involvement in high school show choir was contingent on my NOT having had to wear makeup. Actually, none of the boys wore makeup at Central. At Danville, the show choir is so good that they could probably perform a nightly cabaret in Branson, Missouri, but the Central show choir was compiled of singers who would probably make it onto American Idol for the wrong reasons. Many of us would warrant Simon calling us “the musical equivalent of flatbread.” Plainly, we weren’t good.

But the groups at the Midwest Classic actually were (more or less). Where my show choir would perform either pieces that served as jingles for Chips Ahoy commercials or painfully optimistic tributes to Music with titles like “I’ve got Music in my Soul” (which was the real title to one of our songs), Amy’s old group did a ditty to Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control,” complete with B-Boy adidas jumpsuits and a hardcore band member wailing away on a xylophone as if xylophones were going out of style.

Most show choirs, including Amy’s and my own, have collective monikers that end in “–ion”: New Impressions, Delegation, Celebration, Jubilation, Registration, Carbonation, etc… This is the case for about three-fourths of all show choirs, and many of those have fancy colloquial spellings or end in exclamation points (Xperience!). I’m not sure who comes up with these names, but once the designation is applied, it changes about as often as the New York Yankees’ pinstripe jerseys.

Show choir is something that, if done poorly, can make for some of the largest nerds in the History of All Things Nerdy. There were several groups of this ilk on Saturday, one of whom even did an insane abstract Egyptian-themed routine in which the performers wore tunics that resembled Aztec tablecloths. The sad thing is that themed costumes like those are extremely expensive and have to be purchased every single school year. Amy said that her high school raised upwards of $3,000 annually just for costumes! At Central, I wore the same sequined vest, which under the right stage lighting, was bright enough to illuminate a small village, for all three years of my show choir career. But then again, our funding wasn’t quite that of some of these other schools. I digress.

And you know, I make fun of this stuff because I was part of it, and I know how ridiculous some of this stuff could be. Let’s face it, if Christopher Guest gathered the “Spinal Tap”/”Guffman” crew for a mockumentary about high school show choirs, we’d watch it, and we’d share a hearty laugh. However, the bottom line is that these students work exceptionally hard to put these shows together, and cheesy or otherwise, they do a nice job. I love knowing that there are teachers and sponsors out there that are willing to put such tremendous amounts of time and dedication into helping these students be really great at something. One thing I’m learning as a high school teacher is that adolescents need an identity, and they better they are at fitting into that identity, the more self-confidence they’re going to have. In conclusion: good for those schools, those students, and those sponsors. I’m proud of them all!

So there. There’s my confession. My penance should be something manly, something like “watch four hours of football, drink a couple of beers, and don’t talk about being in show choir for a few years.” The Super Bowl was on last night, and I had a few of my most masculine friends over. We discussed nothing of sequins. Check, check, and check.