Monday, September 28, 2009

September Cavalcade of Whimsy

Miscellaneous thoughts.  Assume a "mini spoilers" heading under each category.


I LOVED the ending of last season.  From checking reviews and such afterwards, I found that I was in the minority, but I thought it was amazing.  In my opinion, House's best moments are the shows that mainly ignore the body and focus on the mind: anything that deals with hallucination, memory, reality, or whatever, is generally an order of magnitude cooler than the (still decent) procedural shows that make up the bulk of each season.

Which is why I was so thrilled at how last season ended.  Sending House to an insane asylum?  The possibilities seem endless!  The show's creators have shown a huge willingness before to radically shake up the show's structure and keep it from growing stale.  I expected that House would eventually return to the hospital - they can't change the basic premise of the show, after all - but I figured we'd get a good four to six episodes of House's recovery in the asylum, probably intercut with his team back home trying to make its way without him (or, possibly, by consulting with a raving lunatic over the phone - even better!).  I was a little bummed when I realized that we'd only get the equivalent of two episodes in the asylum, and of that, less than five minutes of House actively being crazy.

Once I got over my disappointment, though, I thought it was a good episode.  They got off to a bang by playing "No Surprises" over the opening credits.  I would have thought that I'd howl with rage if they ever touched "Teardop," but they lucked out and picked one of the few bands who I deem worthy to succeed Massive Attack.  I'm curious if this was a special one-time thing or not... I kind of imagine that we'll be back to the standard opening for the rest of the season.  I'll see soon.

The new characters were good.  It's a tough balancing act... you want to make them complex enough to be interesting, but at the same time, you have less than two hours in which to do everything you will ever do with them.  The overall structure of the premiere really felt like a benign version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest... their Nurse Ratchet is infinitely nicer, of course, but still, you have House as the generally rebellious person who's basically sane and superior to the other inmates, a staff who opposes him, and then an assortment of colorful but ultimately harmless supporting characters. 

Random note: I enjoyed House's reaction to the piano in the common room.  After the show, I was wondering why House didn't play the piano for the talent show (other than the obvious reason that he didn't want to be in the talent show).  After all, he's really good.  Then it struck me: I don't think we're EVER seen House play the piano for another person.  He has one in his apartment, and it's clearly important to him, but he never shares it with anyone, not even Wilson.  I thought that was really sad.  Having a gift for music, and keeping it all to yourself, seems... well, maybe not pointless, but like you're depriving both yourself and the world of something precious.

Anyways.  All in all, it was good.  I still would have enjoyed seeing an edgier and more drawn-out asylum sequence, but for what it was, they did a good job.  My biggest concern now is that House will be too "cured."  After all, the entire show after the first couple of minutes isn't about making House sane, it's about making him into a good human being.  And good human beings are a wonderful thing to become, but they make for lousy television.


Boy, did this one ever sneak up past my radar.  I hadn't realized that it was starting so soon.  First of all: HOORAY! I was half afraid that Fox would change their mind and yank it after all.  Secondly: What the hell?  (Skip this if you haven't seen the unaired final episode from Season 1.)  When I first saw that Season 2, Episode 1 was available, my immediate thought was, "Oh, this will probably just be the unaired episode.  I'll just verify that, and then get ready to keep watching next week when they start the real Season 2."  Nope!  It's a totally new episode - and, it follows the aired finale, not the DVD bombshell.

So, again: what the hell?  Mainly, I'm curious if we've gotten a sneak peak into the future continuity of the series, OR if that was intended as a non-canon exercise.  If it's the first case, then fine, that works... they can drop in the reboot any time the show gets stuck in a rut and switch over to an awesome new story.  The only downside is that it makes things a bit anti-climactic, since we know what's coming; and, if they try to work any of that plot thread into the main story line, we know how helpless they are to prevent it from happening.

If it's not canon, then I just have to say "Boo!"  Shame on Whedon for getting my hopes up.  But in that case, I'd also have to agree that Fox absolutely did the right thing in deciding not to show the episode, which stunned me at the time.

That aside: I enjoyed the opener.  Topher is now solidly my favorite character.  It was kinda cool to see a mini BG reunion when Lee and Helo fought.  (Those actors must know that they will probably never outgrow those characters - I really hope they're OK with it.)  The nested engagement thing was pretty cool... it does seem a little weird and petty that Helo would have used Echo like that to chase down an arms dealer, especially when his own plan obviously causes him so much pain.  With Echo's skills, there are plenty of other ways he could have brought him in.  That said, what makes sense isn't always what's dramatically satisfying, and I'm glad they did it the way they did.

What else... oh, everything was good.  Whiskey coming to terms with her identity, the new head of security settling into his role, even the tiny moments we got with the other Actives.


Does anyone have them?  What do you think?  My contract with AT&T is up, and I'm considering jumping.  I've wanted to for a while... T-Mobile has a great reputation for being a reasonable carrier to work with, and I like their plans more than the other carriers'.  They also have some phones I'm interested in - originally the Android line, but now I'm salivating at the thought of an N900.  I skipped T-Mobile when I was first looking at phones two years ago because at the time they didn't advertise coverage at my apartment; it looks like they've since fixed that, and I'm now able to make calls fine from there.

The main things I'm curious about is how good their 3G network is, and how good their customer service is.  Honestly, I don't deal with customer service and hope not to, so I hope that they just set things up nicely and don't make mistakes.


I bought the Orange Box!  I see why everyone's so excited about Portal!  I think it's possibly the best designed game I've ever played... that's probably overly enthusiastic, so wait until I'm more than a week removed from the amazing finale for a more measured judgment.  Still, though: I'm hard pressed to think of another game that's just so tightly constructed, with such a consistently high level of quality.  I feel like every single minute that I was playing that game, I was doing something awesome.  There was no dumb repetition, no leveling up, no clearing the fourth identical room of bad people.  Just relentlessly challenging and varied puzzles, a really subtle and dark side plot that eventually overwhelms the main storyline, and the most amazing villain I've come across for a while.

There's a ton I could write about Portal.  Right now I'll confine myself to one thing: the computer is identical to and nothing like SHODAN.  Comparing it to SHODAN would be one of the highest compliments possible - SHODAN is in the running for best villain EVER.  If you list their qualities, they sound identical: "Insane computer with a female voice encourages a human to progress through a futuristic environment and then seeks to exterminate them."  But still, everything about them feels completely different. SHODAN is... like an evil goddess, I guess.  She's all-powerful, all-knowing, She is supremely confident in her own superiority, and believes that the insect-like mass of humanity are beneath her notice.  GLaDOS, on the other hand, is endlessly quirky.  She's a little insecure, while still being supremely powerful.  She wants to be trusted, even when she admits that she's fundamentally dishonest yet.  ("Have I lied to you yet?  I mean, in this room?")  She steers you to your doom while speaking words of encouragement.  Ultimately, GLaDOS is more insane, or maybe just a different kind of insane... I guess you could simplify a little and say that GLaDOS is psychotic and SHODAN is a psychopath.

Either way, they're both fun!  GLaDOS is way funnier.  SHODAN is way scarier.


Did I mention that I got the Orange Box?  I'm working my way through HL2 now.  It's a great deal of fun.  It blows my mind that I was playing Half Life 1 exactly ten years ago.  That feels like forever!  It's also pretty incredible that HL2 has been out for five years; the graphics still look top-notch, at least to my eyes.  (Granted, I hardly ever play FPS games and never have a top-of-the-line graphics card.)

This game is reminding me what I loved so much about HL1.  It's an action game, sure, but it has a plot, and it's at least as much about solving puzzles as about shooting big guns.  HL2 adds some amazing environments to the mix.  Not that HL1 was any slouch in that department - I was blown away at the time by just how huge the game was, and how the vast underground environments were broken up with occasional jaunts to the surface and that final weird coda in Xen - but HL2 takes it to another level.  I've already experienced a war-torn Eastern European city, a wonderfully creepy horror-movie-style city filled with pseudo-undead, and a gorgeous seaside road that reminds me of California's coastal Highway 1.  I'm in awe of the designers who came up with all this.


Dexter.  I was a bit underwhelmed by the third season - still, how could you possibly top the first two?  I'll keep the third season in mind this time around and hopefully have my expectations surpassed.

Dragon Age.  A Bioware RPG is the only game, other than Civilization, for which I will upgrade my PC.  DA is coming out for all platforms, and at first I was thinking I might skip the upgrade and just grab the PS3 version.  Then I remembered - oh, yeah, mods!  Baldur's Gate 2 is one of the most perfect games I've ever played, and it exceeded perfection thanks to the amazing mods people put out for it.  I never really got into NWN - never even beat the main game, and didn't play any expansion, although I hear that the expansions are better.  Anyways.  I've deliberately been avoiding reading about DA, but now that we're about 6 weeks out, I'm finally letting myself dive into the lore a bit.  It looks really promising.  I doubt I'll buy it on launch (unless there are REALLY GOOD pre-order specials), but it's the sort of thing where I expect that reviews will be good, and I'll pick it up soon after.

Venture Brothers.  For some reason I thought we had to wait until November.  But nope, it starts in October!  Hooray!  Just about three weeks to go.  I have a friend who's really into this show, and she's been re-watching them to try and figure out the third season.  There's a plot twist at the end which doesn't seem to make much sense.  It'll be interesting to see if the creators address this head-on, sweep it under the rug, or pull one of their great switcheroos that changes everything.

That'll do for now, though there's still plenty more to come.  Whee!

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