March 30th, 2008

Whale fluke

Mr. and Mrs. Coach!

Part of me wants to write a review of the TV series Friday Night Lights that just says "Friday Night Lights. Now I get it."

Except I already did "get it"; I'd watched a good chunk of the current season.

Now, after seeing the first two episodes of the first season on DVD, I can say "Friday Night Lights. Now I get it more."

That's how I spent Earth Hour last night, in fact; good excuse to have the lights off...
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Whale fluke

VERSUS! The Simpsons vs. Family Guy

This is inspired by Cort and Fatboy's latest round of VERSUS!, their Thursday feature where they have callers say why X is better than Y or Y is better than X. Last Thursday's: The Simpsons versus Family Guy. It was a close vote, with The Simpsons squeaking out the victory. Both Fatboy and Cort were flummoxed that The Simpsons almost didn't win. They admitted that with The Simpsons's weight as an institution -- remember, it's the longest-running sitcom not just on Fox, but on all of television (and also the longest-running prime time animated show ever) -- means that whatever new episodes are weighed against moments of brilliance in its past and often found wanting. And I admit that as Family Guy is far more smart-assed and fast-paced, The Simpsons can almost seem staid in comparison. Again, that weight to it.

But I've watched and enjoyed both shows (though I've watched far more of The Simpsons; I was a fan from the start), and I must chime in with my reasons, and the big one: The Simpsons has a stronger emotional weight. I'm more likely to care about the Simpsons than the Griffins.

That emotional foundation got built very early in The Simpsons's run. The first half-hour Simpsons episode, the Christmas special Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, aired December 1989. (The show proper began airing with Bart the Genius in January 1990.) I've long found that Christmas episode actually kind of sappy: it's the one where they rescue the greyhound Santa's Little Helper after he's thrown out by his owner.

(That's one of Bart's relatively rare "wide-eyed little kid" moments, where he's all "Awwww, Dad, can we keep him?" Yes, Bart's a smart-assed troublemaker earlier, like when he blows his dad's cover as a Mall Santa or gets a tattoo, but he's not all about the bad-boy gags. We like him. So we feel for him more later when, say, he gets hit by the car or he's slaving away at that French farm.)

So the whole first episode is motivated by Homer taking desperate steps because he feels otherwise he can't afford a happy family Christmas. (There's actual pathos when he's out in the snow watching other, Griswold-elaborate Christmas displays.) And the show followed that lead, so that at its best (like the Monorail episode), the events of an episode are outlandish, but the emotions aren't.

Family Guy, on the other hand, never built as strong an emotional foundation, and started going outlandish very quickly. That outlandishness can be a thing of beauty -- I adore the insanity of Peter Griffin's fights with the giant chicken, with enormous destruction and death played out to insanely busy Ron Jones action music (I'm a Ron Jones fan) and all of this mayhem having no impact on the plot whatsoever, which is part of the joke -- but it too often feels like outlandishness for the sake of outlandishness. I'm less likely to care.

When Family Guy works, it works (I'm fond of the Griffin kids Chris and Meg, and the music and songs are top-notch; see? More positives!), but I was thinking of highlights and kept coming up with the action stuff: the giant chicken, the knock-down-drag-out battle between Mayor Adam West (yes, that Adam West) and The Noid, or Stewie shrinking himself Fantastic Voyage-style to enter his dad's body and laser-blast his sperm into oblivion. Action is easier to animate than stage, and I admire that Family Guy's writers and animators take advantage of that (especially in, say, the "end of the world" dream episode), but I can't imagine Family Guy doing an episode with emotional action as involved as, say, Homer's vision quest episode (one of my favorites, and the one with Johnny Cash as the voice of the coyote).

And if all that fails to convince you of the greatness of The Simpsons over Family Guy, there's this: Family Guy has never been in a Die Hard film.
iAm iSaid

Your latest chance to do good: shadesong and Elayna's writing challenge!

You can be charitable and read fun stories at the same time! Here's how:

shadesong is a writer. Her 13-year-old daughter Elayna is also a writer. They're writing to raise money for one or, ideally, two sessions at a summer camp for Elayna. Most immediately, they need $600 for the deposit to go to both sessions. As of this morning, they've raised $576.25 in donations via this challenge (I've donated; PayPal's a fantastic invention).

Each story is a revised retelling of a fairy tale, and each one is a different kind of fractured. Elayna's runs first, followed by 'Song's. When you donate, you also vote in the PayPal comments field for one of the authors.

One neat thing about this challenge is watching Elayna improve as a writer: a story a day can do that, or at least it should, if you have any talent and potential. This really is kind of a high-wire act for her. (shadesong, make sure not to show this entry to Elayna so as not to freak her out!) It made me think of Harlan Ellison writing short stories in a public place, the story's first pages being hung up for people to read as he writes the rest of the story.

Here's the tale line-up:

#1: Rapunzel (Monday)
#2: The Princess and the Pea (Tuesday)
#3: The Steadfast Tin Soldier (Wednesday)
#4: Cinderella (Thursday)
#5: Rumplestiltskin (Friday) (be sure to read the comments!)
#6: Hansel and Gretel (Saturday) (as told by the witch)
#7: Sleeping Beauty (Sunday)

Oh, and here's 'Song's latest update on the challenge.
Whale fluke

One of the really quick FLASHBACKS I do sometimes: Sixties Ain't Nineties

While going through clippings and typing up some of my film reviews from my three years at the Hermiston Herald, I came across this paragraph from my review of 1998's The Odd Couple II (indeed, there was a sequel) that I wanted to preserve:
The Odd Couple II is an object lesson in how different films are from 30 years ago. Product placements dot the film. It's edited more quickly, causing more continuity errors. There's a lot more music, usually making the emotional moments more obvious (and to be honest, much of [Alan] Silvestri's comedy music doesn't do much for me, save for his galloping MouseHunt theme). And the men swear -- which made me ask "Were they able to act any less adult when they weren't swearing in the first film?"
By the way, the original Odd Couple from 1968 was rated G, in that brief time when the "General Audiences" rating didn't immediately mean "almost entirely mainly for kids." Even with a scene with scantily-clad dancing girls it was G...
Whale fluke

Finally, a picture of me for you to see (indubitably!)

Coolness in my e-mail just now: Here's a picture of me from sometime within the last few years (I don't remember when), taken by my Uncle Mike Walsh. Right now (March 2008) I'm without the Van Dyke facial hair -- I'm stubbly with weekend facial hair growth at the moment -- but this is a way I've looked many times. And I like the lighting, too:

Chris Walsh (Me), by Uncle Mike Walsh Chris Walsh (Me), by Uncle Mike Walsh