Looking back over 365 days of posts, it’s amazing how few of them really deserve to be remembered. But what with it being the end of the year, and with best-of lists proliferating everywhere, I figured I could do worse than to compile a bunch of links to the very few highlights this place managed to churn out over the past 12 months. Enjoy:
• My perilous adventures in the sales world.
• My evening with the drunk girl with sideburns.
• My live account of Oscar-night letdowns.
• My other encounter with an awkward drunk stranger.
• My trip to the sun-blasted wastes of the Big Country.
• My numerous problems with Lorelai Gilmore. (I’m still rooting for Eigeman to return.)
• My gift to the Grand Canyon.
• My concerns about the gifted Bryan Singer and the uber-hack Brett Ratner.
• My favorite story about Chris Hawaii. (Or one of them, anyway.)
• My favorite TV characters. (The list of which is always changing and growing. I can’t believe I omitted Oz.)
• My doubts about flying reptiles.
• My disappointment with Spurlock’s TV show.
• My freshman year.
• My advice to foolish young men.
• My very own horror story.
• My music week: Parts one, two, three, and four.
foolish awesome educational trip to Sin City.
• My thoughts about Rushmore, my favorite Texas films, my interview with a bona fide director, and the best movies you’ve never seen.
As good as I was expecting it to be:
Is it wrong that I found myself enjoying the scenes where the German woman was coming onto Matt Damon when he used the alias “Mr. Carlson”? I’m just saying, I dug the accent. Anyway:
[As always, discussions of TV shows currently airing are likely to contain, you know, spoilers. If you're not quite smart enough to figure that out, this is your warning. If this warning doesn't work, please have your home health care provider turn off your computer and take you out for ice cream.]
I’ve been writing about the wonder that is “Battlestar Galactica” for a while now, and this season I’ve become more convinced than ever that it’s one of the greatest shows on TV. And it’s not just the show’s willingness to explore the dark side of humanity that keeps me riveted, but how the stories manage to marry that darkness with a sense of honor, and hope, and unrelenting struggle against impossible odds.
In only the first 11 episodes of its third season, “Battlestar Galactica” has gone through more upheaval and turmoil than other shows would dare pack into an entire year. The seires could have spent the entire season focused on the New Caprica settlement established at the end of Season 2, which was accomplished with a one-year jump forward in the show’s chronology. But no; after four episodes, the settlers had been rescued from the Cylon invasion, Baltar had cast his lot with the Cylons, the men all changed their facial hair and then changed it back, and Tigh lost an eye before assassinating his own wife for betraying the cause.
So, things have been eventful.
Yet I find myself moved again to praise the show, despite the fact that my repeated mentions of the show probably bore some people1, because it continues to bravely explore such relevant issues as the role of military in the government and the place of religion in public society, and it does it with flair and grace and downright beautiful storytelling. After the fleet was restored and had fled New Caprica, the show dealt with the treacherous nature of insurgency fighters and vigilante justice by having a cabal of crew members dispense private retribution for war crimes. And then there was Starbuck and Tigh’s personal quest to sow discord among the ranks just for the hell of it. And who could forget Apollo’s argument in favor of genocide?
But it was the ninth episode, “Unfinished Business,” that again raised the series’ bar for pure sweep. Tying together most of the major characters’ stories in an episode that relied purely on backstory and relational history to drive the plot, it ostensibly revolved around a boxing match for the officers. The structure of the episode is moving, as repeated images and scenes become expanded until the full plot is revealed. The episode takes place during the year of action the viewer never saw, between the discovery of New Caprica and the later retreat from the planet. It built on the festering Apollo-Starbuck relationship and showed in greater detail just why he hated her so much, and letting them beat each other up in the ring was a sadness only matched by Apollo’s look of heartbreak when he discovered Starbuck had literally abandoned him at dawn.
And while “Unfinished Business” featured the show at the peak of its character-driven melodramatic power, the latest episode, “The Eye of Jupiter,” was another great marriage of the show’s tangled relationships with its increasingly complex mythology. Having the humans and Cylons clash over the latest signpost on the way to Earth is inevitable, but the series keeps the conflict fresh by making it a political standoff and an observation of the power of religion. It’s infinitely more unsettling when, instead of simply engaging in a firefight with the enemy or running away, the Galactica hosts Cylon representatives for an uneasy discussion of a possible temporary truce. Seeing the opposing sides come to an impasse over the newly discovered holy temple has an odd grounding effect on the conflict, and instead of casting one group as inherently good while the other is irredeemably evil, the humans and Cylons are simply portrayed as having two different approaches to survival. It’s a nice move to make the “bad guys” so fascinating and relatable, and it’s one of the many things that helps the show transcend its narrow genre and become a beautiful, compelling drama.
Age of Thomas Wolfe upon publication of Look Homeward, Angel: 29
Age of Bruce Springsteen upon release of Born to Run: 25
Age of Bob Dylan upon release of Highway 61 Revisited: 24
Age of David Foster Wallace upon publication of The Broom of the System: 25
Age of Norman Mailer upon publication of The Naked and the Dead: 25
Age of Elvis Costello upon release of My Aim Is True: 22
Age of Wes Anderson upon release of Bottle Rocket: 27
Age of Noah Baumbach upon release of Kicking and Screaming: 26
Age of Ryan Adams upon release of Heartbreaker: 26
Ages of Jeff Tweedy, Jay Farrar, Mike Heidorn upon release of Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression: 23, 24, 23
… I am really, really wasting my 20s. Really.
1. The Faol Saga, Part 3: The Harrowing
2. The Peacekeepers’ Trilogy, Book 1: Chyron’s Ruling
3. Tales of the Otori, Book 4: The Harsh Cry of the Otori — The Last Tale of the Otori
4. Dragonriders’ Tales, Part 4: Blood of the Innocent
5. The Obsidian Trilogy, Book 3: When Darkness Falls
6. The Belgariad, Vol. 2, Books 4-5: Castle of Wizardry; Enchanters’ End Game
7. The Sword of Truth, Book 3: Blood of the Fold
8. The Switchfire Cycle, Book 5: The Reckoning
9. The Zion’s Blade Series, Book 2: Bloodless Land
10. Star of the Morning: A Novel of the Nine Kingdoms
11. The Castleguard Trilogy, Book 3: The Mage’s Return
12. The Oberon Cycle, Book 1: Wolf’s Rule
13. The Darkwar Saga, Book 1: Flight of the Nighthawks
14. The Dark Wizard Cycle, Book 3: Sophie’s Choice
15. The Earthsea Cycle, Book 3: The Farthest Shore
16. Strfuh, Dragonspeaker of Killdremen: Being the First Part of the Winged Vengeance Cycle — The Horn of Krah
17. The Black Magician Trilogy, Book 1: The Magicians’ Guild
18. Hrothfar Battles the Dark Triune: Part the First — A Gathering Alliance
19. The Serpentwar Saga, Book 4: Shards of a Broken Crown
20. Tales of the Garolds, Book 2: Shepherd’s Keep
Real: 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 13, 15, 17, 19.
Fake: 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16 (come on), 18, 20.
• The highways cutting east through the San Gabriel Valley become congested even earlier in the day than normal on a Friday afternoon, as if the commuters who work in L.A. but lay their heads in the ‘burbs can’t wait to get out of Dodge. A sense of exodus permeates even the most casual drive in this direction at this time of day on this day of the week, but it’s compounded something like nineteenfold when the destination is that dirtiest of holy grails, that most joyfully desecrated of all America’s cities, that dull black rock in the center of Lady Liberty’s battered crown: Las Vegas.
• Vegas, it should be pointed out, is America’s own personal whore.
• It seems like everyone just calls it Vegas, and that it’s been that way forever. The casualness of the address belies the dangerous intimacies on tap in Sin City herself, which works (as everything always does) in the house’s favor.
• People usually use “tragic flaw” to mean “unfortunate personality trait,” as in “Randy’s a raging cokehead. Drag.” Or “It’s a total bummer that Jennifer has to make small cuts on her thigh to achieve physical pleasure.” This quaint, aw-shucks dismissal of anything that could be amiss with someone as nothing more than a minor setback is at best shortsighted, and at worst a horrible, horrible mistake. Because a genuine tragic flaw is that darkest, purest, most ruinous desire that not only ensures the hero’s undoing but also defines who he/she is. Las Vegas birthed itself from the desert based on the concept that the hero is nothing without the flaw that will lead to his/her eventual destruction, and the city is determined to offer anything and everything a man or woman could want, not merely as recreational activities, but as a brutal means to a quick, messy end.
• Seriously, avoid blackjack.
• About that whole “America’s personal whore” thing: There’s a reason Vegas thrives in the desert. The city wouldn’t be able to exist in a place that received a lot of natural traffic or attention. Its being out in the desert (a) furthers the sense of otherworldliness, of isolation from any and all responsibilities that will come screaming back into your life at 8 a.m. Monday, (b) tests the resolve of those who travel there, making you crawl through boring stretches of desert along the 15 just to see those bright and deadly lights, and (c) creates an extreme geographical and emotional distance from the rest of the world allows us to do whatever we want there and to basically leave the money on the not-always-metaphorical nightstand. And Vegas accepts this, her wide grin displaying a row of stained, cracked teeth, as she takes our money. We don’t go there to bury our sins, or wash them away in some mystic river; we go there to celebrate them, to breathe the dusty air of the desert into their bones and awaken them to all kinds of potential reckless adventures.
• You can yell anything you want on Fremont Street — and I mean anything — and no one will care.
• Drunk cowboys who’ve been gambling and losing all day are pretty pissy dudes, but their not-incidental level of danger is balanced by the unintentional humor they create. An angry fortysomething guy with a buzz cut and blue polo, topped off by sharply creased Wranglers, is an endlessly entertaining poker companion.
• You need to accept the fact that you will not “be up five hundy by midnight.” And cocktail waitresses there do not look at all like Deena Martin. Again, the sooner you accept this, the happier you will be.
• If early evening is the best time to make that drive — the dying sun and looming darkness a reminder of the eternal Friday night you’re heading for — then dawn is the best time to make that languorous trip back home. The moonlit fields of Primm actually qualify as moonlit, no poetic license needed, and the pale sun on the bleached sand manages to put the guilt and everything in perspective. Most of that drive doesn’t feel like California or Nevada; it doesn’t feel like anywhere.
• It’s about doing stupid things precisely because they are stupid. And about accepting that.
If the guys from “Twentyfourseven” were trapped in a burning building, I would shut the door and walk away and let them burn. And L.A. would be free of seven of the countless poser hipster morons that clog the place.
I think people would throw a parade in my honor.
It’s a little unsettling to see Tobey Maguire go from the wussy mumblings of Peter Parker to having angry, bound-to-be-projecting-his-own-emotional-insecurities sex with Cate Blanchett.