Monday, April 30, 2007

TV is character building!

Last week, Park Bench reader Shan posted a breakdown on his site of ten top episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It got me and my husband thinking about the Buffster, and so we decided to start watching the series from the beginning all over again. And you know what? It’s just as good as I remember it -- although I still have no idea how Buffy slayed in those skirts. Which got me thinking some more: what makes some shows infinitely re-watchable and other shows instantly forgettable?

For me, I can watch shows like The West Wing, Buffy, Firefly and The Office over and over again. There are other shows, though, like24 and Lost that I enjoy “in the moment” but have zero urge to watch again. Here’s what I think it boils down to: character versus plot.

Whereas plot driven shows are all about the big reveal and what comes next, The West Wing and Buffy are about peeling back layer after layer of character. And if those layers are revealed through extraordinary dialogue, well then all’s the better. The moments we all remember in The West Wing have nothing to do with passing legislation or balancing the budget. The moments we remember best are Leo telling Josh he’ll always have a job or Toby discovering that “babies come with hats” or Bartlet calling the Butterball hotline or giving Charlie his Paul Revere carving knife. Right there? Character.

Compare that to Jack Bauer killing a guy…and then killing a guy…then flying a helicopter so he can go kill a guy. It’s exciting. It’s action packed. It’s well made. But it’s like those old Saturday serials in the 40s: it’s what you watch until something better comes along. With Lost, it’s all about the big surprises. I’ll watch week in and week out because I want to see how the mystery ends, no more and no less. And let me just say, if that Rambaldi guy from Alias turns out to be the big mojo maker, I’m going to be pissed. I’m giving you fair warning, J.J. Abrams!

In the end, just give me a Giles, a Josh, a Pam or a Mal – all characters with depth and charm and awesome vocabularies – and I’m yours forever. The minute you start mistaking explosions and car chases for depth and development, my Tivo and I are dumping you. I hate to be harsh, but that’s the sitch -- as Buffy would say.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Wrap-Up

Just a few items to start us off this Friday morning...

It was an honor for me just to be nominated by me
In a stunning act of humility and class, The Park Bench has nominated itself for The Best Blog of All Time award at the Blogger's Choice Award. I encourage you to vote early, vote often and try to get every dead Chicagoan you know to vote, too. With any luck, it'll be Shakespeare in Love versus Saving Private Ryan all over again.

FOX television, you make me sad.
Why, Fox, why? First you kill Tony Almeda off 24 and now you're going to deprive me of Drive? What do you people have against Nathan Fillion? Is it because he looks so much better in your pants? Is it because he's Canadian? The only consolation is that now you can take your Fillion action figure (you know, the one you carved by hand) and act out the rest of the episodes, thanks to producer Tim Minear posting scripts on his website.

You just can't spell Ikea
If you've ever been sitting on your couch and thought to yourself, "Now would be an ideal time to spell 'quotidian' and get a triple word score," help has arrived. This company is offering Scrabble tile pillows. They are awesome and look like this:

Mr. Ed's Bloody Rampage
According to Yahoo news, witnesses say they heard a cry of "Wiiilllburrr" before turning to find Mr. Ed wielding a bloody hoof and standing proud over the lifeless body of this portly German man. He then stole the guy's wallet and bought himself a bag of Nutter Butters. Okay, not really. Some drunk guy just left his horse in an ATM lobby while he slept one off. But wouldn't it have been better the other way?

A couple of late additions...
* Honorary Park Bench Chairnerd Tina Fey blogged last night on NBC after the season finale of 30 Rock, which was wonderful as usual. Read what she has to say about lobster and Dr. Spaceman here.

*Park Bench reader Brodie has a funny list of Country Music Songs for Nerds over at his site, My personal favorite is The Wreck of the Commodore 64. Gordon Lightfoot is kicking himself for not thinking of that first....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Tell-Tale Signs: Stevie Nicks

Yesterday morning, I saw Stevie Nicks on the Ellen show and, well, I don't know how to tell Stevie this, but I think she might be one of us. Perhaps this is just projection on my part because when I was seven years old, I wanted to be Stevie Nicks and today, Fleetwood Mac is still the bee's knees in my "best band ever" book. I believe, however, that the evidence is solid:

1) She wears very sensible shoes. I was going to provide photographic evidence for this, but I've discovered that the only thing that Google images does not have is a picture of Stevie Nicks wearing black Reebok hightops which I swear to God I have seen her wear dozens of times. I would not lie about rock stars wearing sneakers. I have standards, and you're just going to have to trust me on this.

2) She's a poet, which puts her in league with Dorothy Parker, who earned her own girl nerd status by rocking the bobbed hairstyle and being best friends with Robert Benchley.

3) Stevie likes to watch TV. I don't know this for sure because she keeps forgetting to invite me over for Gilmore Girls , but I'm pretty sure I read this in Rolling Stone. Or maybe The Economist. One of those. Anyway, she gets huuuuge points for being a TV junkie but we also have to deduct a certain number of those points because apparently the TV she likes to watch is The Style Channel. Oooh, we were so close there, Stevie....

4) She owns a lap dog, which is simply another word for "cat" and we like the cats.

5) She dated a tech nerd. Yes, Lindsey Buckingham may be a guitar god, all swanky in his open-necked white cotton shirt and dark blue jeans, but rumor has it, he also enjoys hanging out in his studio playing with all those gizmos and gadgets that make Lance Bass seem like he can sing. He's a tech nerd and here's my evidence:

6) When I was in the 11th row of a Fleetwood Mac concert a few years ago, Stevie Nicks waved at me which totally ensnares her in the nerd realm via the six degrees of Park Bench calculus.

7) She might be a witch. This means that a) she can float and b) she's just like Willow Rosenberg, ergo major, major nerdiness.

And there you have it: indisputable evidence of Stevie Nicks' nerdiness. Say hello and give her the secret handshake when you meet up with her at that midnight preview of Spiderman 3.

The pretty books are the best books

If books were men, I’d be a total whore. Truly. I’m like Burgess Meredith (always the first codger who leaps to mind when the word “whore” is used) in that Twilight Zone episode where all humankind is wiped out, and he’s fine with it because he finally, finally has a chance to read uninterrupted. In fact, growing up, that episode traumatized me enormously – I would cry each time I saw his glasses break, unable to imagine a worse fate than being surrounded by all those books and never being able to enjoy them. (Rod Serling, you dark-souled bastard!)

In college, when other girls talked about their deep dark fantasies – “I want to be trapped in an elevator with a mysterious stranger” or “I want to be caught alone behind the grandstand with a mysterious stranger,” I would always nod silently, pretending to empathize when really all I was thinking was, “What the hell?” Of course, that was what they were thinking after two bottles of Boone’s Farm and a tendency toward confession inevitably led me to reveal my own deep dark fantasy: “I want to be trapped…in the classical history section of Barnes and Noble. With a highlighter.”

“And a mysterious man?” they’d ask hopefully.

“Is he carrying a good reading lamp?”

And then somehow I’d never get invited back. But whatever. This is just my long way of saying, I’m literature’s bitch. And I blame it all on the book cover designers. The ugly truth is that I’m drawn to the shallow end of the book-buying pool. I want my books, like my men, to be quiet and to not smell like mold and not give me papercuts. But mostly, I just want them to be pretty.

The other day, I had Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, in my hands at Barnes and Noble. I read the first ten pages. I loved it. I was ready to lay out my $14 but as I walked toward the front of the store, I saw that the same book was on sale for $3 less but in a different edition. While the edition in my hand had a beautiful, delicate cover, the sale version had the movie poster, all bombastic and overwrought, with a big picture of Kal Penn smack dab in the middle. Despite the presence of Kal, who is dreamy, the cover was hideous and the paper quality seemed poor. I stood there debating – do I save $3 and try to live with an ugly cover or do I behave like an incredible idiot and pay $3 more just to have the pretty? The inner turmoil was too much. I put both copies down and bought a beautiful new novel whose title I can’t remember because once I got it home, I realized it wasn’t any good. Attractive but dumb – just like every guy I dated in tenth grade.

My home library is filled with books like that – gorgeous covers that conceal books in which I have very little interest. At times, though, I must admit that buying those books actually has opened new doors for me, expanding vistas I otherwise might never have explored. I know an awful lot about the aftermath of World War I because of the elegant imagery on the cover of Margaret MacMillan’s book, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. I know about Ernest Shackleton and I know about the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and the odd but enduring friendship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt – all because I couldn’t say no to a book’s pretty face.

The lesson here, if there is one, is that maybe I shouldn’t always dismiss the value of my shallow side. For every accidentally-read chick-lit tome, there’s an Everything Is Illuminated or a complete collection of Dorothy Parker stories to be discovered and savored. That seems like something with which even my college fantasy man – the one with the really good reading lamp in that dark Barnes and Noble aisle – could agree.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A new vice

Last night, I did something I've never done before. No, not that. And not that either. What I did was, I read a comic book. Before last night, the closest I ever got was reading Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and laughing at Spy vs. Spy in Mad magazine. The siren call, however, of a season 8 Buffy the Vampire Slayer penned by Joss Whedon was too much to resist.

I'd missed out on the first issue and am now too poor to shell out the $50 they want for it on Amazon, but I was lucky enough to find issue #2 yesterday. And while I admit to having had some difficulty with narrative transitions and also figuring out which panels to read first -- I'm such a newbie -- I enjoyed the visuals and the dialogue, which was very Whedonesque. The jokes were flying, the action and tension were palpable and the character likenessess were very good. My maiden comic book voyage was a good one, and I'm glad Joss was at the helm. And now I'm thinking that's a weird metaphor....

Anyway, now I'm curious as to what other comic book goodies are out there, especially after reading about two intriguing titles in Entertainment Weekly. One, called Alias the Cat, "features a smack-talking cat, superheroes and midgets commingling," which sounds promising indeed although I might have to try The Salon by Nick Bertozzi, which centers on "a crime-fighting gang composed of art-world all-stars like Gertrude Stein, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso." I will give my money to any individual who envisions Gertrude Stein as a crime fighter. And I think right there is the reason why I could easily be converted to a comic book fan: the ability to put the unimaginable front and center before our eyes. That's a pretty beautiful thing.

Also, if you'd like to read about comics from someone who knows what they're talking about and is very entertaining at the same time, try Chris' Invincible Super-Blog, which I discovered a couple days ago. Very good reviews with a satisfying dose of humor. And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go find out who this "super man" is that everyone talks abouts...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Robotic birds and Spiderman

Between this:

...and the news that Spiderman is being turned into a Broadway musical written by Bono and The Edge, it's not too bad a Friday.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Point/Counterpoint: Old BSG vs. Better BSG

It's an age-old question on par with Coke vs. Pepsi, Zima vs. Lighter Fluid, Pampers vs. Huggies. Which is better -- old Battlestar Galactica or new Battlestar Galactica? Ms. C and I sat down recently, wearing Pampers and Huggies, mixing a little Zima and Coke, and tackled The Question:

Liz: The new BSG -- or should I say, the "real" BSG -- is 100 times better than the original for the simple reason that there's no velour*. Anywhere. And Admiral Adama doesn't wear a cape or a giant Bea Arthur-sized broach.

Ms. C: The new Battlestar Galactica is a fine television program, that's true. And while I concede that Captain Adama is quite the commanding figure as played by Edward James Olmos, the old version of the show was definitely better. 1.) It was the heyday of the 70's and tight pants were not only permitted, but encouraged. 2.) Lorne Greene! DIRK BENEDICT! C'MON! 3.) Starbuck was a lot more fun back then. Now, Starbuck seems more kickass, but is definitely, and annoyingly, too caught up in her own drama. 4.) You know what else I liked about the old version? The Cylons made that whoosh-whoosh sound with their eyes more. Oh, and don't get me started about the constantly naked toasters on the new version. It's like whenever the writers feel their male audience reaching for the remote, they throw some gratuitous toaster sex in the mix.

Liz: First, I can't believe you numbered your arguments when you know I suck at math. And second, the new version of BSG has Laura Roslin and that should trump everything else. She is, by far, the coolest character on the show. Kind and serene one minute, then shoving people out the airlock, inciting a religious furor and stealing an election the next. How can you resist that?

I agree that the whoosh-whoosh cylon eyes were pretty great though. And so was Dirk Benedict, although I think Katee Sackhoff could snap him like a twig and then beat him with the Emmy she'll win one day. Maybe they can save that for a big-screen BSG?

Ms. C: I have to hand it to you, Laura Roslin is my favorite. And even though the original had Patrick Macnee of The Avengers fame (as THE DEVIL! HOW COOL IS THAT?!), the acting star power in the new version is light years (You sly boots, with your space references! -- Ed.) ahead of the classic series.

I would, however, like to bring to your attention that the new BSG suffers from a severe, and grievous, lack of Daggits. Muffit, the dog/bear/robot, animated by a chimpanzee delightfully named Evolution warmed many a heart in the original series.

Liz: As a rule, I like anything and anyone played by a costumed chimpanzee, so I'll agree with you on the sad lack of Daggits. I also agree that it was pretty cool to have Patrick Macnee playing a role on the show. But you've got to admit that the new Baltar as played by James Callis is a million times better than that sniveling dude in the original series. When Callis snivels, he does it with conviction. You really believe he's pained by his delusion-driven decisions. You also really believe that he's pained by his syphilis -- because you can't make syphilis jokes too often!

Ms. C: Ewww! Syphilis! And toaster syphilis at that. You've hit me with another bon mot in mentioning Callis' convincing sniveling. It pains me to watch him writhe around like he does but that only goes to show that he's a great actor.

Well, the only thing I've got left is to say that the successful transformation of a classic series like Battlestar into a compelling contemporary science fiction program slicks up a dangerously slippery slope. What's next? Buck Rogers played by Luke Wilson? Lindsay Lohan as Wilma? Twiki reimagined as a leggy fembot?!

Liz: I would cry giant, salty tears of joy if someone re-made Buck Rogers. We'd get to see Birdman again. And the space vampire. And Twiki and Gary Coleman enduring short-person-joke hell. Maybe we could even get thin-haired Gil Gerard and his unitard back. I'm ready to relive those golden days and I'm ready to relive them NOW!

Ms. C: I loved Buck Rogers. I had a little girl crush on Gil. And to think of seeing Birdman or Dr. Theopolis side by side with today's awesome special effects...well, I'd be watching the show standing up, afraid to run to the bathroom for fear of missing something.

Liz: There's nothing to do now but start petitioning Tarantino for Buck Rogers II: In Space No One Can Hear Your Polyester Scream. Who's with me?

* Defined by Wikipedia as "a textile...(which) combines the stretchy properties of knits such as spandex with the rich appearance and feel of velvet."

Dickens World: ready to unleash ye olde English awesomeness on YOU!

Screw Disney World, now we’ve got Dickens World! Opening this May in Chatham, England, Dickens World is a theme park that will bring the filthy, impoverished world of Dickensian funny to life. How awesome is that? It’s even more awesome the way Yahoo News describes it:

"In Dickens World, rat catchers hunt vermin on London's cobbled streets, pickpockets roam the alleys — and visitors line up for a fun-tastic water ride."

It’s the “fun-tastic water ride” that really sells it for me. So now you know what you’re doing this summer -- go book that airline and start working on your lousy Cockney accent RIGHT NOW!

In which we hear back from Mr. Hodgman

Upon learning of his win as April's Nerd Man of the Month, John Hodgman was kind of enough to respond and let Park Benchers know that he was "humbled and grateful" for the honor.

He also was kind enough to nominate a potential Mr. May: songwriter Jonathan Coulton. I give him a "hell yes" vote just for his song, "Tom Cruise Crazy." Check it out below and let me know if he passes muster.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mrs. Peel, we're needed.

If you're feeling uninspired by your Netflix queue and are looking for something new to sink your DVD-viewing teeth into, it may be time for you to try The Avengers. One of the most popular British TV series ever made, The Avengers holds up more than 40 years after it first debuted, mostly because of a very funny, very ridiculous, self-aware approach to storytelling that predated Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Williamson by years.

The Avengers ran for nearly a decade and existed in many forms, starting off as a straight crime drama, starring Ian Hendry as a doctor avenging his wife's murder (hence, that "avengers" thing) and Patrick Macnee as shadowy government agent John Steed. Macnee would be the only constant cast member over the years. (He also was the only cast member to send me a very cool Avengers paperback when I was nine.) The Avengers then morphed into a slightly loopier spy show with leather-clad Honor Blackman (Goldfinger's Pussy Galore) replacing Hendry. Arguably, the series' golden age began with the arrival of Diana Rigg as Macnee's crime-solving partner, Mrs. Emma Peel. To me, every season that came before it can be summed up with a hearty "meh." But those two Rigg seasons? Fan-frickin'-tastic.

If the girl nerd world had a hierarchy of fictional characters, Emma Peel would be the queen bee: she was never without a witty comeback, was using science to solve crime years before that Scully chick came on the scene, could drive a race car and battle robots and man-eating plants with equal ease, and was all about the no-muss, no-fuss hairstyle, which you've gotta love.

The Avengers is all campy, weird goodness. Treat yourself to a bit of the bizarre, and give it a try.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A potpourri of truly indispensible knowledge

* Recently, The Bookseller trade magazine announced the winner of their annual Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title -- The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification by Julian Montague. While it's a good, solid quirky title, I'm a little miffed that Di Mascio's Delicious Ice Cream: Di Mascio of Coventry: an Ice Cream Company of Repute, With an Interesting and Varied Fleet of Ice Cream Vans, by Roger De Boer, Harvey Francis Pitcher and Alan Wilkinson lost out. Now that's a title.

* Speaking of publishing, I was shocked that Entertainment Tonight was AGAIN shut out of the Pulitzer Prize race this year, with judges deciding to instead give their Fiction Prize to some hack named Cormac McCarthy for his novel, The Road. Don't they know how hard Mary Hart works for her art?

* If you're feeling friendly on Thursday and have a hefty supply of antibacterial hand wash, then you might want to take part in National High Five Day. The name pretty much says it all: go high five like crazy. And if you can high five a professional athlete, preferably Peyton Manning, then all the better.

* You know how no one believes that politicians are motivated by good intentions any more? It's kinda true. They're all just vying for the mythical Golden Gavel. Here, I'll let The Washington Post explain:
Both Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) want to be the very first among their class of nine senators to win the Golden Gavel Award, which was created in the 1960s as an incentive to get wide-eyed new senators to learn the rules and procedures of the snootier chamber. The award goes to any senator who has presided over the Senate for 100 hours in any given year.

What with all the Facebook pages and the cafeterias and the cliques, I always figured Congress was like high school. I wonder if Barack will ask Hilary to prom? Bill's going to be sooooo jealous.

* If you want to learn more about the secret world of the annual Spamarama Festival in Austin, Texas, you've got to check out Mary Jo Pehl's intense, action-packed and awesomely funny account of her VIP Spamarama experience.

Cap'n Tightpants goes vroom

Dear gods of network television, please put Nathan Fillion on my TV screen every week forever and ever and ever, especially if it’s in something as good as Fox’s Drive, which debuted in a two-hour long hail of nerd bliss last night. Produced by Ben Queen and dork god Tim Minear, whose past credits include X-Files, Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Wonderfalls, this show’s pedigree promised good things and so far it's exceeded expectations with its frenetic energy and humor.

Part Cannonball Run (sadly sans Menudo soundtrack), part It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and part Lost, the show follows a group of people on a cross-country road race in search of a $32 million payoff. Some of the competitors have been coerced into competition, like Fillion’s Tully who is searching for his kidnapped wife (played by Angel’s Amy Acker) and mother Wendy whose newborn son apparently is being held hostage. Others, like a father and daughter team and an Iraq War veteran and his wife, seem to be racing just for the cash…and, of course, valuable life lessons. The cast is almost uniformly appealing, especially Fillion who is years overdue for superstardom. His pants, however, should be tighter. I’m just sayin’. Melanie Lynskey, who plays mom Wendy, is also terrific, despite freaking me out by looking way too much like Marisa Tomei.

The show’s only flaw rests in its attempts to be a bit too Lost-y for its own good. The premise is goofy enough without trying to make things too convoluted, making me wish for more racing and less plot. Then again, I am kind of a simpleton. For right now, though, I’m totally onboard for Drive. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out episode three tonight on Fox, starting at 8 EST.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Pride and Prejudice: The Holy Grail of Smart Girl Chick Flicks

I am 12 years late to the party, but finally I have seen the grail. Yes, I'm talking about the A&E production of Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and a seductively mutton-chopped Colin Firth. And damn, it was good.

Iread Pride and Prejudice many, many years ago and had forgotten most of the story's details, so I felt like a complete neophyte when I slide the DVD into the player and began my five-hour trek with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. It's a typical Jane Austen plot -- young women in difficult financial situations trying to decide between marrying for wealth and security or marrying for love. A truly happy ending involves finding a man who can provide both those options -- someone perhaps like Mr. Darcy.

The acting in this production is uniformly splendid. Jennifer Ehle does a wonderful job conveying the sly wit, intelligence and charm of Elizabeth Bennet, surely one of Austen's finest creations. It's not difficult to believe that Elizabeth is the only woman in the world who could cure Darcy of the pride that conceals his true kindness. As for Darcy, Colin Firth is exceptional in a difficult role, one that requires him to say and do terrible things yet retain the the audience's sympathy long enough for him to achieve redemption. Firth gives Darcy all the shyness, insecurity and ultimately, the sweetness he needs to do just that. The supporting cast is exceptional, too, especially Benjamin Whitrow, who plays Elizabeth's father with a wonderful, weary sarcasm.

My only quibble? For years and years, I'd heard tales of the awe-inspiring moment when Darcy emerges all wet and sexy from a swim. It achieved legendary status as the scene Bridget Jones turned to over and over again in her darkest, most candy-bar and cigarette-filled moments. It was like that deep, underground secret that all the literary nerds knew about -- except me. Imagine my disappointment when I saw the real thing! He's just wearing a sopping white shirt, carrying his boots and coat. That was it! No slo-mo. No Firth-version of Bo Derek emerging from the ocean in 10. No choir of angels or funky heavy bassline with floodlights providing just the right mood. Sigh. So disappointing.

If you haven't seen Pride and Prejudice, then don't let that one little item deter you. It's a wonderful production, full of romance, beauty and humor -- perfect for a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nerd Man of the Month: John Hodgman

Every day men come up to me on the street and ask, “When will I be named Nerd Man of the Month?” I say, “Not until you put some pants on, Mr. Attorney General,” or “Not until I forgive you for Battlefield Earth, Mr. Travolta – which means never, sucker!” And then I laugh and laugh, and then they walk away, sad and dejected, unsure if they will ever again truly feel like men.

This month’s Nerd Man recognition goes to John Hodgman, who has never once approached me about the award, because he’s a dude who just doesn’t care. You no doubt will recognize Mr. Hodgman from his Daily Show work and his star-turn as “PC” in the Apple ads which have subliminally convinced millions of unwitting Americans to buy iMacs and tape pictures of Justin Long to their screens. You also might recognize him as the author of The Areas of My Expertise, a book which looks like this:

Just as prisoners have found solace in the pages of Oprah Magazine and America’s leaders have found inspiration in the words of their lobbyists, I too found salvation in The Areas of My Expertise. Its tales of hobo uprisings (seriously) and gigantic lobsters and myriad other matters both profound and insignificant held me rapt through a 27-hour-long Nyquil haze this past week. It’s a very funny book and is highly recommended for both sober readers and those totally wrecked on cold-care products.

For his gloriously smooth humor and subversive writing, which includes a very fine blog, and for increasing the value of my Apple stock and for wearing very pleasant-looking glasses, The Park Bench is pleased to name John Hodgman its April Nerd Man of the Month.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Beautiful footage, beautiful creatures

No jokes here, just some astonishingly beautiful footage of deep-sea creatures, sent in by frequent Park Bench reader Annie. Exceptional photography and some truly eye-opening images. It's about five minutes long, so set aside some time to enjoy this.

Astronauts are known to overpack

It seems like it’s been difficult for the media to get over the fact that people who volunteer to have themselves strapped to enormous explosives and shot into space might be mentally unstable. That’s the only explanation I can find for stories like this one, which details the items found in astronaut Lisa Nowak’s car when she set out to allegedly kidnap her romantic rival.

I’ve heard other items were found in her trunk, too, including:

* Fergie’s junk
* A Choose Your Own Adventure: Spurned Rocket Scientist edition
* One pair of handcuffs, formerly used by Harry Houdini
* One burst appendix, formerly used by Harry Houdini
* A copy of DIY magazine
* Fourteen shocked news analysts
* A butterfly net
* Sigmund Freud shamefully spooning a kitten
* Michael Palin, host of A&E’s “Coast to Coast in the Trunk of a Fucking Lunatic”
* Two tickets to Paradise
* And the last shred of NASA’s dignity

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

To hell with you, Wolf Blitzer -- I get my political news from David Letterman

First there was John McCain announcing his presidential bid. Then there was Al Franken talking about his '08 Senate run. And last night, Barack Obama talked to Dave about his thoughts on being Hilary's VP.

Is it just me or is all this political talk cheapening The Late Show? As funny as they are, today's politicians will never be as good as a hamster who can bowl himself:

Monday, April 09, 2007

Knut the cute-ass bear

Yahoo! tells me that Knut the Bear is simply the cutest thing to hit the airwaves since JonBenet. Born in Germany and known to be a close friend of the Kaiser, Knut is all the rage in his home country and is whipping up a frenzy of cuteness worldwide. More than 1,000 followers already have gathered in South America, holding cups of honey-flavored Kool-Aid at the ready. Knut has single-handedly raised the stock prices of his home zoo by 94 percent and, by association, should raise the circulation of The Park Bench by an equivalent amount. At least that's what the men with the PR badges and Bavarian ski masks told me when I handed them the bag of Euros.

Here's a picture of Knut being forced into cuteness for the sake of the Reich. His fluffer is letting him know that the people from Steiff are on their way and if he doesn't make at least 200 prepubescent girls swoon by tomorrow night, he'll be sold to FAO Schwartz.

Oh jeez, he is actually pretty cute. I can only be jaded for so long. Wook at his wittle paws....

One Month

Today marks the one month anniversary of The Park Bench, which has now offically lasted about three weeks longer than I imagined. A sincere thanks to all who've contributed, commented and read our ramblings on Tina Fey, Battlestar Galactica, nerd dating, Eleanor Roosevelt and the myriad other odd subjects with which we've tried to amuse you. Your support is appreciated, and I hope you'll keep reading because, seriously, April 16 is National Eggs Benedict Day and you're not going to want to miss that.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Point Counterpoint: Faulkner vs. Hemingway

As retired English majors, Ms. C and I have nothing better to do than argue about icons of 20th century American literature. No, not King and Grisham. I'm talking Faulkner and Hemingway, southern shut-in gentleman versus crazed debaucher.

Liz: Okay, I'll get the ball rolling. Hemingway showed better than anyone that "less is more." His sentences run seven words, not seven pages, something a certain Oxford, Georgia resident, whose passion for clauses was matched only by his passion for obfuscation, could not always boast.

Ms. C: Hemingway was lazy. He relied on the reader to supply imagery and context. It's not a work of art to leave a canvas blank and ask the client to imagine his own masterpiece. Faulkner can be accused of being too wordy, certainly, though Melville takes the cake in that department. Faulkner, however, knew the value of immersing oneself in the narrative completely, no holds barred. Hemingway was too busy slinging back the absinthe and counting his cats' toes to appreciate real artistry.

Liz: If Faulkner ever immersed me in a narrative in which I actually wanted to be immersed, I would be impressed. Instead, in novel after novel, he drops me into the middle of crazy town without a map. I never know what the hell is going on in his books. All I know is that it usually involves mildly incestuous siblings and a resurrection. If I wanted that, I could watch the Olson twins go to Easter mass. With Hemingway, it's always a nice straight shot from A to B to C with a stop for boozing and womanizing on the way. And let's not even start on the polydactyl cats who are -- paws down -- the coolest author-bred cats in the world.

Ms. C: If you like your novels not to tax you overly, then by all means, pick up a Hemingway novel on your way to the beach. Feel free to use it as a coaster or a rudimentary clam digger. But you wouldn't do that with Faulkner, as you wouldn't do it with Shakespeare. Faulkner's stories can not easily be put aside, or understood, because, like a fine gourmet meal, they must be savored and EXPERIENCED.

And if we're going to talk animals, I'd match Faulkner's bear to Hemingway's pampered pusses any day!

Liz: Two things. First, Hemingway would shoot that bear, eat it with his bare hands, then wear its head for a hat. And second, he used to be able to make Fitzgerald cry. I think that counts for something, don't you?

Ms. C: Hemingway was so chronicly blitzed, he'd have shot his own foot off before he ever got near that bear, and everyone knows Fitzgerald was a namby pamby! He'd cry if you spilled his martini! Also, Faulkner was a Nobel Prize winner with sexy Southern charm.

Liz: Okay, this is the part my debate coach always hated: the part where I start to agree with the other side. While I still contend Hemingway influenced at least two generations of writers who have shaped American fiction and deserves his place as an American master, I'll admist he was kind of a tool bag and he hated women and Dorothy Parker never liked him, which makes him kind of a loser in my book.

Ms. C: I'm inclined to believe, from Hemingway's fiction, that he didn't know any more about women than Screech. Faulkner, though, there's a man who'll hold the door for you.

Liz: You have swayed me, Ms. C, you have swayed me -- this time!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Snoop Dogg probably has a pocket protector

If you're wondering why your boy nerd friend couldn't go see Grindhouse with you last night, it was probably because he was rapping. According to NPR's Marketplace, nerd rap has become all the rage. I'm partial to the artist known as Beefy because, seriously, how can you not like someone who's got songs called "Tub of Tabasco" and "Webcomic Junkie?"

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The tell-tale signs

You Know You're a Girl Nerd When...

* You find Dwight Schrute attractive but know enough not to tell anyone.

* You get vertigo wearing three-inch heels. You take the shoes off and give them to someone you hate.

* You DVR the Scripps Spelling Bee...and spend weeks memorizing all the words in case someday they create an adult spelling bee which you will enter and ultimately conquer.

* You know that the string theory has nothing to do with kittens.

* You’re not shocked at all when scientists discover a genetic link between nerdiness and Anglophilia. You wave your Union Jack in celebration.

* You know what an Eames chair is and you would sell your sister to own one.

* You have opinions on fonts.

* You watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail and laugh before each joke.

* You know that George Washington did not fight in the Civil War.

* You may have lit a Barbie on fire. Once. Or twice.

Its an aphliction

You know how a man can spot cleavage from a hundred yards away…in the fog…when he’s blind? That’s how I am with typos and bad punctuation. Unlike a man, however, I would never go to a bar called Typos and claim it has “really good wings,” so that analogy ends right here.

In my real life job, I have to deal with text on a constant basis. This has rendered my brain completely unable to pass by a misplaced apostrophe or an errant comma without making some sort of snide comment and wishing I could mark it up with red pen and send it back from wherever it came. Remember that nice, feel-good movie Akeelah and the Bee? Completely ruined for me because of one set of misplaced quotation marks. You know those home-made grave markers on the side of the highway? My sympathy was sapped when I saw “rest in peece.” The KFC near my house lost my business not because of the disgusting feather I found in my popcorn chicken but because of the sign out front that read “mash potatoes” and “warm biscuts.”

Things reached rock bottom a few years ago during a vacation to Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. A beautiful island with a wonderful history and a welcoming, kind population, it is also filled with a dozen candy shop owners hell bent on breaking me by spelling “caramel” in approximately 78 equally egregious ways. It got to the point where I had to walk down Main Street never looking left and never looking right for fear of spotting a sign for “Saturday’s Carmell Apple Fest” and having to gouge my own eyes out.

My problem is an ugly one over which I have little or no self-control. Worst of all, it makes me a hypocrite because God knows, I misspell things all the time. I’m better with punctuation, however, and think I could fairly categorize myself as AP Style’s bitch. To all the poor, long-suffering people, though, who have had to listen to me gently, and I hope politely, point out the difference between “it’s” and “its,” well, they probably just leave out that whole “AP Style” part. And you know what? I don’t care, as long as they spell it right.

There's joy in Nerdland today

Not only does 30 Rock return to NBC tonight with a new episode featuring Will Arnett, word also came yesterday that the show has been renewed, meaning our beloved Honorary Chairnerd Tina Fey will be gainfully employed and safe from having to peddle jokes on America's rough-and-tumble streetcorners for at least another year.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

He's an excellent driver

If I could, I would build a time machine and go back in time to middle school and endure being taunted all over again by that little bitch Brandy just so I could have a locker and pin this photo up inside it:

If you'll excuse me, I have to go brush up on my H.G. Wells now and find some Trapper Keepers.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A hodge-podge-ish potpourri, if you will

Just a few short items this morning because of work, but thanks to two Park Bench readers, we've got a couple of good ones.

* Annie sent in a very cool link that will appeal to all of us movie fans. Check out movie poster mash-ups like this one, a personal favorite because I do love the ska -- and no, that's not a euphemism:

* Margaret was kind enough to let us know that we can open a whole new chapter in the Luke vs. Han debate by voting for their respective postage stamps at the U.S. Postal Service site. Han's looking pretty heroic on his stamp. I'm just saying.

* Have you ever wanted to become a philosopher and master the art of tearing a phone book in two -- all in just a few short minutes? Apparently, wikiHow can teach you. I've zipped past this feature on Google a million times, but never really looked at it until yesterday. If only I'd paid attention, I'd know now how to balance on a galloping horse, become a cheerleader and report a UFO sighting. My weekend would have been so much more exciting.

* In other news, rumor has it that Keith Richards may have snorted the ashes of his father. Oedipus smacks forehead, wonders why he didn't think of that first.

* And last but not least, an item dear to my own bitching-and-whining heart. It's the Helsinki Complaints Choir. Their job? To sing random, submitted complaints. It's one part flash mob, one part performance art, two parts Dadaist and one part beautiful music if you enjoy the sound of Finnish being sung. It's rather long, so grab a cup of tea and watch it on your break.

Thanks again to Annie and Margaret for sharing those links. If anyone else has any suggestions, please let us know!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dating for the Single Girl Nerd: The Perks

In part II of the divine Ms. C's ongoing series, Dating for the Single Girl Nerd, she looks at just a few of the many perks to be found in the single lifestyle:

Back in Le Olde Dayes, it seemed the men grew on trees and fell, like ripe apples, into our yards, some perfectly delicious, but most rotten and mealy. Or, all one needed do was to enroll in Women's Studies and sit next to the only male in the room, sure to be the hottest, and obviously, most savvy coed of them all.

But in the grown-up, adult world, outside the confines of studentry or retail, finding the elusive Mr. Goodbar becomes sickeningly all too cliche.

This is where, dear Single Girl Nerd, we absolutely must recount why we are the lucky ones. And, indeed, do not doubt that we are for there are quite a few perks for the Single Girl Nerd: from gleefully giggling openly at those clenching Spartan buttocks in "300" to hearing envious suburban friends sighing over your weekdays chock full of meeting friends after work, getting a massage, or seeing a movie; not to mention the freedom of your weekends! Wide open for any invitation! Any at all! Please!

Feel free to flirt shamelessly with that ex-boyfriend two states away, that saucy Brit John Oliver from The Daily Show, or that bartender seriously out of your league -- all without any guilt or recrimination. Oh, and if you have a one-night stand, it's only between you and your best friend who will mock you for years, but in a good way.

Don't forget to thoroughly enjoy the fact that your choices are entirely your own. Those Muppet-like carpets that cover your bedroom floor, that shiny new purse made of recycled pulp novel covers, that dinner of tater tots and light beer while watching the Discovery Channel: all yours with no one to negotiate with, compromise with, or convince. And though you might sleep alone most nights, it's sweet comfort to know that those two pillows you spoon with NEVER snore or kick or get up to go IM someone.

And you get to spend money on YOU. As a Single Girl Nerd uninterested in Ugg boots or cocaine, you have more money to spend on vacations learning how to surf in Puerto Rico or finally mastering French and visiting Paris. Or save your money and stay home with "Baldur's Gate." It's alright, either way, because there's no one to hold you back from, or remind you that you haven't, quite achieved all your goals yet.

I could go on and on, but I'll leave you with this. Remember that you are very lucky, Single Girl Nerd! You have in your hands a freedom no coupled friends enjoy. Do yourself a favor today and remind one of them. When Jena and Mike are tickling each other in front of you, take that opportunity to remind them of all your blessed independence and freedom and milk it like a big fat cow.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Top Ten Memorable Moments of Season Three

Strap your nerd hat on tightly, won't you, and spend a few moments at The Park Bench as we count down the top ten most memorable moments of this past Battlestar Galactica season. These are in no particular order and were selected for no particular reason except that they stood out for me and have lingered on weeks and even months later. Let the nerd fest begin:

10) Roslin’s crazy-on for Baltar – Watching Laura Roslin go ape-shit crazy on Baltar in Taking a Break From All Your Worries was like watching a nun stage an armed robbery...and then shoot a kitten. It was so, so wrong and so, so scary. Mary McDonnell took quiet, level-headed, slightly Machievellian President Roslin and turned her completely, insanely inside out, and in the process, use her acting awesomeness to scare the bejeezus out of me.

9) Return of the dying leader – Why, Ron Moore? Why? Please don’t take my middle-aged girl crush away from me. Roslin, with her wonderfully sweet and increasingly Lady Macbeth-y ways, is one of the very best characters on television. If you kill her off before they reach Earth, I’m going to be very, very angry. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Wait, sorry, wrong show.

8) D’Anna’s death wish – There’s been no better use of the Cylon recycling trick than D’Anna’s never-ending string of suicides as she sought to learn the identities of the Final Five. Of course, in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t so much religious fervor as a desire to stop being a side order of fries on the Baltar-Six syphilis platter. Eww.

7) Starbuck’s return – In the immortal words of Cartman: “Sweeeeeeet.” Watching Starbuck sidle up to Apollo in her suspiciously new spacecraft, with her cool, unconcerned “Hey, Lee,” and her promise to help Garmin the fleet back to Earth should be enough to keep us occupied and confused for the next ten ungodly months. Welcome back, Kara. Way to make my head explode….

6) Kara Thrace and her special destiny – From the moment Starbuck handed Adama that Aurora figurine, I knew she was toast. And perhaps even a toaster. I was surprised at how affected I was by her demise, leading me to shake my fist at the TV and cry, “Why couldn’t it have been Lee?”

5) Unfinished Business – Saying you like this episode is like accidentally telling one of your divorced parents you like the other one better: shouting inevitably ensues. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I love it and I want to spend my Easter vacation with it. Its scenes of hopeful New Caprican settlers preparing for a future they’ll never have finally gave us the insight we needed to understand what was truly lost when the Cylons returned. It’s one of BSG’s most emotionally resonant episodes.

4) The Woman King – A deep and revealing episode exploring – ha, ha, just kidding. It blew.

3) Tigh executing Ellen – Much like Boomer’s shooting of Adama at the end of Season One, this was a moment that made me rub my eyes and go, “Wha--?” I had a hard time accepting that poor one-eyed Tigh really, truly ended Ellen, who committed treason simply to help him. It was an ugly, showing us just how much humanity had been stripped away from these characters.

2) Rescue of New Caprican refugees – Ah, space porn. That shot of Galactica blazing into New Caprica’s atmosphere and the ensuing battle with the Cylon ships was the sci-fi equivalent of an HD, widescreen Ron Jeremy marathon. Space ships shooting things up doesn’t get much better.

1) Revelation of four of the Final Five – First there’s anger, then denial, then bargaining and finally acceptance. I went through all those stages in the two minutes it took Tigh, Tory, Anders and Tyrol to finally realize they’re the fleet’s biggest Jimi Hendrix fans. Even though Crossroads Part I pretty much telegraphed the big reveal, it was still enough of a sucker punch to work. Best of all, it sets up what promises to be a major shift in this show’s concept of “heroes” as these stalwart characters cope with the fear of succumbing to their true motives.

Is it January yet?