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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (1/24/11) 11:22pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  <none>
TV:  Party Down [season two], Avatar:  The Last Airbender [2x01-2x05]
Books:  The World Without Us

Party Down [season two]
This is the second season of Rob Thomas's follow-up to Veronica Mars, a small half-hour comedy about aspiring showbiz types working as Hollywood cater-waiters.

First things first:  yes, Casey Klein is still the most attractive character in the world.  Any concerns that she might be less attractive in season two turned out to be entirely unfounded.

There's something inherently weird about a sitcom that concerns itself with ambitious characters.  It's in the nature of a sitcom to find an arrangement for these characters that works, and then *keep them there*.  So the characters have these all-consuming goals, and they make these schemes to get what they want, but in the end you know that they're not going to break the show.  The characters won't win.  The situation will stay the same.

And that takes the wind of the sails of the story, when you know that in the end, we'll just hit the reset button and everything will go back to normal.

I suppose most of the time, a Party Down episode is about watching exactly how those schemes fall apart.  The surprise isn't the endpoint, but it's the whole Rube-Goldberg series of steps that lead us there.  But also, you get moments like "Steve Gutenberg's Birthday Party", where you get a glimpse of what it *would* be like for a character to win.  If Roman actually learned to take notes and rewrite, then maybe he could make some decent scenes -- and sure, he never will, but there's something exhilirating about that split-second where you see what winning would look like.

And then we've got Henry Pollock, who is one of the more befuddling TV leads I've seen.  It's something of a miracle that Rob Thomas et al write this whole show around a character who is disillusioned, who has given up on Hollywood, and who wants... what, exactly?  I still don't know.  So we see plots structured around *negative* objectives, around what Henry *doesn't* want.  He doesn't want to run the Party Down crew.  He doesn't want to be killed by Ukrainian mobsters.  He doesn't want the crew to find out he was making out with Casey at the community-theater party.  And so on.

See, kids?  That's why you don't write a lead with no clear objective.  'cos then you have to be brilliant enough to arrange storylines like that, where your lead is prodded to action just to avoid disaster.

It's also interesting to see how the show recoils from its season-one finale.  Season finales, this one included, have a way of rearranging the show's world.  Then, a typical season premiere is all about getting the show's world back to normal -- back to that situation that actually works as a TV show.  In this case, they take most of the season to gradually move all the pieces back to their starting positions:  Ron comes back, but he's a drunken and insubordinate underling; Casey comes back, but Henry is now dating Uta; Kyle had got a film part, but the film goes straight to east Asian DVD.

Every show finds a way to revert the changes from a season finale.  It's perfect that Party Down does it as slowly and uncomfortably as possible.

And with that, one of my favorite half-hour comedies is done.  Rumor is that Rob Thomas & Co. are putting together Temps for NBC, a show with perhaps some commonalities with Party Down.  Lizzy Kaplan talks occasionally about their willingness to do a Party Down movie.

Ah well.  I figure we lucked out getting two seasons of this show in the first place.  I shall just be grateful for that.

Avatar:  The Last Airbender [2x01-2x05]
This is season two of Nickelodeon's animé homage about a magical boy who travels the world, training to save the world from a tyrannical empire.

At least so far, season two is not markedly different from season one.  Again, we see Aang & Co. travel from one far-flung locale to another.  Again, they are pursued by evil forces.  Again, their advetnures are ostensibly about learning magic, but really about learning to be a grown-up.

The slight changes in season two are welcome ones.  I'm happy to see Prince Zuko drop out as the main antagonist.  Instead of running him in circles ("I have to catch the Avatar, but... d'oh, he has escaped my grasp yet again!"), he's now on the run from his own nation, separated from his sensible uncle, and running solo across the Earth nation.  As I said last time, Zuko is on his own journey towards being a grown-up, and this new role for him lets him continue that journey.

Meanwhile, I'm amused that our heroes are instead being chased by the teenage wuxia equivalent of Charlie's Angels.  I'm betting the show can get some mileage out of the infighting among those three.

And it might be my imagination, but it seems like they're letting Sokka and Katara fight more -- and in doing so, they make those two feel a lot more like actual siblings, as opposed to two similar-looking kids who happen to know each other.

Apart from that, though, season two delivers more of the same -- but it's a very good same, so I have no complaints.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
This is the book of speculative nonfiction (I like that phrase) about how exactly the world would carry on if all the humans on it disappeared tomorrow.

As you might expect, this isn't so much a book as it is a collection of essays.  Mr. Weisman studies one aspect of post-human decay after another:  now he watches an oil refinery fall to pieces; now he watches the sea gradually balance out the greenhouse effect; now he sees abandoned nuclear facilities melt down; and so on.

The book interested me the most when it was really about the engineering problem of keeping things from falling apart.  For example, New York City relies rather thoroughly on a set of large underground pumps that keep, say, Spring Street from turning back into the spring it was named after.  Or he'll talk about the weak spots in man-made structures -- how moisture will get into a roof right around the roofing nails, after a bunch of temperature cycles have played expansion-and-contraction havoc with the wood.

The book interested me less when it was really about man's brutality to the global ecosystem.  Yes, I know about the Great Garbage Patch.  Yes, I know about the mass extinctions that we're causing.  Yes, I know about acid rain and the greenhouse effect.  Long stretches of this book just recount the same problems we're all familiar with in the same language we're all familiar with, capped off with an unnervingly cheerful, "And once the humans all DIE, things will be soooo much better."

I have to concede, though, even those sections had some interesting bits.  For example, I was interested to learn how plastic breaks down in the oceans.  Technically, it doesn't; it just gets broken down into smaller and smaller bits of plastic (not less plastic, mind you, just smaller bits), until finally it the animals at the very bottom of the food chain can eat it and completely fail to digest it.  And now, bath soaps use exfoliants that are basically tiny plastic bits that get ejected directly into the seas.

So the book was kind of all over the map, and kind of leans heavily on the same old hippie dirges you've already heard, but its more interesting speculations make it a worthwhile read on balance.

For next time, I'm starting in on preparations for the noir show.  After I finish Kevin Smith's My Boring-Ass Life, I'll start in on Dark City, a book about film noir.  I'll also finish watching Appointment With Crime, and write up some words about The Asphalt Jungle.  I imagine I'll hit the end of A Game of Thrones on audiobook as well.

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