Archive for November, 2012

What’s on the DVR – Fall 2012 Edition

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Who knew I’d actually be watching some prime-time network shows for a change?

The Last Resort
Here’s a terrific popcorn action series on ABC about a nuclear sub that goes rogue after disobeying an order from a dubious White House to nuke Pakistan. How did this ever get on the network? It looks like a major motion picture, has great acting from Andre Braugher as the sub commander, Scott Speedman, and Robert Patrick, and a solid pedigree from show-runner Shawn Ryan, who created The Shield on FX. Naturally, the only thing this sub couldn’t take on was Admiral Nielson and the U.S.S. Ratings. It’s been cancelled. But that’s a shame and a blessing. A shame because the show did a fantastic job of sustaining good plotlines despite looking like they shot their whole wad in the pilot, and a blessing because it probably should have been a mini-series all along. Playing it out longer than a season might have stretched credibility, especially since Pakistan got nuked and China had already invaded Taiwan by episode four and no television budget could possibly contain what would happen next.

ABC scores again with an All About Eve meets country superstars. Sure, it’s a soap, but so was The Sopranos and Downton Abbey if you get down to it. What lifts something beyond the corn flakes is great writing and acting, and this one was created and launched by Callie Khouri, the veteran feature screenwriter behind Thelma and Louise. Connie Britton as the fading Reba McIntire superstar and Hayden Pantierre as a conniving bitch version of Taylor Swift trying to upstage her make for a tasty rivalry. And T-Bone Burnett provides non-cheesy country songs that ultimately make this hybrid musical wear easier than NBC’s Broadway-set version called Smash. Throw in Powers Booth as the Britton’s sleazy kingmaker dad busy Karl Rove-ing her dim husband’s run for mayor and this show can rest comfortably in the shadow of Robert Altman’s classic political movie of the same name.

I bailed out after the third episode. The premise of society without any electrical or battery power is tasty, but watching the blue-eyed Hunger Games archer babe and her ninja uncle roam through Detroit – er, I mean a decaying apocalyptic America looking for her brother starts to wear thin very quickly. Especially with the cliché dialogue, two-expression acting by Billy Burke and what is basically an alternate universe, weaker version of the pioneer series LOST, which was the first television series out of the J. J. Abrams playbook. Many of the moves that show made, including introducing big characters just to kill them off within a couple episodes, are here. That this show is a hit and The Last Resort gets overlooked is a testament to why I default back to cable shows.

Here’s a cable show that still has some good acting, but completely lost the plot on story and dialogue. It’s descended into Dexter and his sister Deb going back and forth and back and forth wrestling with his legacy as a serial killer who kills bad guys and whether that’s ultimately a deal breaker between them or not. It’s an annoying whine-athon. Here was a show that got better each year the first four seasons, but has jumped the shark big time trying to wring more blood out of a corpse that died around the same time Colin Hanks showed up as a religious-obsessed villain wannabe. Ray Stevenson as the Ukraine baddy running a strip club and plotting revenge against Dexter for killing his male lover is always a good presence, but it’s just not enough. Stick a big blade in it, Dex, and let this once excellent series die in peace.

Boardwalk Empire
This show used to be about Steve Buscemi as 1920’s Atlantic City boss Nucky Thompson walking the thin line between being a respectable politician or a bootleg gangster. After he blew away his co-star and figurative son at the end of last season, that balancing act was obliterated. Now the show is about all the side characters; Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and a new psycho gangster Gyp Rosetti, who makes Joe Pesci in Goodfellows look reasonably sane, and… it works. Nucky Thompson is now the least interesting character on the show, but this wild assortment of blossoming gangsters more than fills the bottle. Maybe they should REALLY surprise us by the end of this season and kill off Nucky himself. The title still works without him.

The Walking Dead
Who alive isn’t watching this show? Oh, right, my wife and anyone else who doesn’t appreciate well-choreographed mayhem and gore. They killed (do you actually ‘kill’ a zombie?) more flesh eaters in the first episode of this season than the previous two seasons combined. It’s not the most wholesome father-son bonding experience, but my sixteen year-old son and I enjoy the creative ways each week the ‘living’ versions of the walking dead characters mush, mangle, stab, shoot, shovel and Louisville slugger the brains of the ‘dead’ walking dead. The only reason we actually DVR this show is to watch it 15 minutes after the start time to zip through the commercials and try to maintain the ‘mood,’ which is often destroyed by that over-caffeinated Talking Dead host dope popping up mid-show to do a plug. If we didn’t watch this show the first night on, my son would hear all the spoilers of who died next in the episode by his buddies in first period at high school the next morning. This may be the only series on television where more brains are destroyed on the screen, than those sitting before a television screen.

Showtime really knocked one out of the park with this series and the fantastic cast of Claire Danes, Damien Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. But since it was immortalized (or should I say molested) in a Saturday Night Live sketch highlighting Carrie’s bulging eye hysterics and Brody’s tiny-mouthed outbursts, I haven’t been able to watch it as seriously since. I love that they didn’t stretch out the ‘Is Carrie crazy or is Brody really a sleeper terrorist?’ plot past the third episode this season, but where do you go once you’ve had Mandy Patinkin’s character Saul sighing and rubbing his brow while listening to Carrie and Brody loudly bonk each other’s brains out while being monitored by the CIA in a cheap motel room as she tries to keep their precious double agent in play. There’s no place left to go but another sketch on Saturday Night Live.

Add The Amazing Race, which we watch in real time, and once again Sunday night dominates about 47 percent of my regular series television viewing. Just call us one of those ‘victims’ and ‘takers’ of what Sunday night generously has to give.

— A. Wayne Carter


In a place called Vertigo

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

In honor of the release of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection on Blu-ray, which includes what BFI film critics now name the greatest movie every made: Vertigo (yes, move over Citizen Kane), I had the delightful experience of getting to know just what this condition is all about.

It’s your worst nightmare.

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night and casually turning your head from one side on the pillow to the next, and suddenly the room, the world and everything is spinning uncontrollably around you. So violently, that just to move is to get instantly nauseated. You try to stand up, but it’s like you’re falling over and down from a great distance. You hold on to the walls just to keep from falling over. You think you’re brain is exploding. The first thing that comes to mind is that you’re having an aneurysm – some vein in your brain has popped and you must be bleeding internally. Or a tumor suddenly pushed somewhere to make its presence known. What other explanation could there be for something so shockingly horrifying? You are completely incapacitated. Just the thought of an ambulance taking you to the hospital fills you with dread. Just moving terrifies you.

So this is what happened to me, and I just remember going “Oh, God, oh God, this is bad, this is REALLY bad,” over and over again thinking the worse. And, being a writer with a vivid imagination, when we think the worse, we can REALLY think the worse. Somehow my wife got me to the ER and I’m just slumped over in a wheelchair looking like I must be tripping out of my skull, trying not to move an inch, but my eyes betray the stillness and are spinning around out of touch with where my head is.

Where’s the CT scan to confirm my worst fears? After more than an hour of hearing gagging and vomiting and crying from behind other curtains in the ER, they finally come to take me to the CT and just moving me to the table causes me to become violently nauseous. But I get through the scan – it only takes a minute or so, and I’m wheeled back to the ER, the universe still spinning around me.

An hour later the ER physician comes back, tells me all the tests were negative and it’s just a bad case of vertigo, here’s some Meclizine and your discharge papers to sign. So that’s it? That’s all modern medicine can do for one of the most terrifying things you can experience – the world spinning mad around you uncontrollably.


You go home and collapse on the sofa and remain as motionless as possible for the next 24 hours and, mercifully, try to keep your eyes closed.

Gradually, the dizziness subsides enough that you can make a phone call, talk to friends and relatives, even glance at a website to begin to understand what’s going on.

Tiny little crystals in your inner ear called otoliths suddenly got out of place and threw off the delicate balance between what your head feels is upright and where your eyes are. These tiny little frickin’ bastard crystals have messed your world up beyond recognition. What do you do?

Go to a chiropractor and have him put you through a series of exercises to try to shift the crystals? At this point you’ll try anything.

Another long, queasy drive, and you find an empathetic ear (and one with their otoliths still in place), and he puts you through the motions. Turning your head one way makes you very dizzy. But your eyes settle down a bit. You leave somewhat better. The sheer relief of knowing you don’t have an aneurysm or brain tumor should have been enough, but you’re very greedy at this point. You want to be able to… function.

You have lousy insurance with a high deductible, but you’re so miserable, you go for the big bucks guy – the ear and balance specialist. By this time a couple days have passed and you’re almost 75% better anyway, but that’s not enough, you want the whole ball of stationary earwax.

The doctor tells you what you already know; you have Positional Vertigo. He can fix it. He has a machine. Lead me to it.

The machine can only be described as a human gyroscope. It’s the same type of thing you might see at a carnival, on Coney Island, or in the tourist corridor along I-Drive here in Orlando. It’s the same type of machine teenage boys PAY to ride in. Well, I’m sure I’ll pay my adjusted fee as well in the long run.

They strap you in, put blackout goggles over your eyes with cameras pointing at your pupils to measure eye movements, and then begin tilting you this way and that. It’s not so bad. I can do this. You’re in total blackness gripping two handles turning on one side, then the other. The flip from left to right gets my head spinning. The therapist measures the eyes shifting and explains that the purpose of the chair is to find the spots that trigger the shifting of the crystals and to dislodge them so they get back in place. Sounds reasonable. She puts me through the same flip from left to right until my eye stops shifting. I can really do this.

Then, just to be sure, she tilts me straight down upside down, and then back up again. Suddenly I’m in a F-16 fighter jet in pitch black skies spinning horribly out of control plunging to me death thousands of feet below. Or so it felt like. My entire body breaks out into a cold sweat and I’m instantly drenched. You literally have been put through what an out-of-control tailspin plane crash must be like except for that final bad part. She knows by my anxiety, shudders and groans that we hit the OMG-spot. She’s almost happy about it. Hey, we found ANOTHER spot where the crystals are out. We better try it again.

I don’t know what part of masochistic impulse lets me think this is a good idea, but I’m so determined to be completely cured in one fell swoop, I agree to one more swooping fell. And bang, I’m spinning again, but not as bad. She stops the machine. I’m exhausted. Bathed in sweat. She says we better stop for now, and try again in a couple days. Oh, great, I can’t wait.

I actually drive myself home completely wiped out, queasy, exhausted, dizzy, but not spinning so much that I’m a threat to other drivers. But I am going about 10 miles below the speed limit crawling home in the slow lane. I get home and pass out.

And I flip my head on the pillow that night and the spinning resumes.

I wake up worse than the day before, and in a panic. Oh, shit, what did I just do to my otoliths? I was ALMOST there. I almost had those bastards back in place, but NOW…NOW I’ve gone and done what impatient, gotta-fix-it-now over-thinking guys do every day… FUCK THE SITUATION UP.

The therapist calls the next day asking if I’m coming in for the next session.

Not on your damn life. I’ll take my chances.

And, sure enough, it gets better over the next few days, and I’m like 90% now.

I’m buying peaches at Costco and I run into an acupuncturist who my wife and I have been treated by in the past and she asks me how we’re doing and I casually mention the vertigo. And she says, “Oh, yeah, I’ve had a lot of patients who get that, and sometimes it’s triggered by a virus. It lasts a week or two and it passes. But if you want me to try and speed it up, I can do something for you.”

Thanks. But, no thanks. I’ll live with it. For now.

Cue Jimmy Stewart hanging from the roof in the opening sequence to Vertigo, trying not to look down for fear of triggering the world spinning around him.

I know how you feel, bro’.

My advice? Stay away from the Gyroscope.

And Kim Novak isn’t such a good idea either.

— A. Wayne Carter