Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Continuing The Blatant Self-Promotion

Okay, so the interview I did with Jerry Newcombe did air on C-SPAN 2 last night, and according to their Book TV schedule, it will air again:

Sunday, June 1, at 9:00 AM
Sunday, June 1, at 7:00 PM
Monday, June 2, at 4:00 AM
Saturday, June 7, at 8:30 PM

Just in case you missed it. The part with me starts about 35 minutes in (though of course it's all good). And if you're really dying for entertainment, you can watch it now on their website.

Okay, that's the last I'll have to say about C-SPAN. At least until the next time I make fun of it after watching a guy standing at a podium in a Border's store speaking to seven geeks in Braintree, MA, one of which geeks actually bumps the camera in the middle of the show. Then I'll talk about C-SPAN again. But in the meantime....

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

C-SPAN Update

After about a million revisions (these people ain't kidding when they say "subject to change"), C-SPAN's website is now showing that the program I did with Jerry Newcombe about his book How Would Jesus Vote? will air TONIGHT at 8pm Eastern on C-SPAN 2's "Book TV."

Might the airdates for this coming weekend still be valid? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Nobody seems to know. One begins to think that C-SPAN has spent so much time covering Congress that they've become like Congress. But anyway, tonight it is, until the next revision which will probably come later this afternoon. Or perhaps midway through the program.

At this point, your guess is as good as mine.

Friday, May 23, 2008

C-Spanning The Globe

If you're interested in this kind of thing, you can see yours truly on C-SPAN 2 next Sunday, June 1st at 7pm Eastern. (It will also air at 9am Eastern that morning, but I know you'll be in church then. Right?)

I'll be interviewing my good friend Jerry Newcombe about his new book (which he wrote with the late D. James Kennedy) called How Would Jesus Vote?

(Unfortunately, on short notice, they weren't able to come up with a controversial title for the book, so they went with this one instead.)

If you're not able to watch it, I'm sure there will probably be repeated re-airings for insomniacs at 3:12am every second Wednesday of the month for the forseeable future. I'm told that these times are "subject to change," which they already have at least once. I'll keep you posted.

Hey, c'mon. You knew you were going to be watching C-SPAN 2 anyway. Why miss it?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Back Home Again With Indiana

I was a little concerned when I heard they were making a new Indiana Jones movie. After the way Sylvester Stallone has been destroying the memories of once great film franchises, the prospect of senior citizen Harrison Ford doing whip tricks at the nursing home was disturbing to say the least.

We went to the opening of the film last night, and as it turns out, I needn't have feared. Granted, I didn't come in with particularly high expectations, but I found the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to be loads of fun and solid entertainment, which, while not matching the greatness of the first film (or even, perhaps, the third one) is a worthy entry in the Indy franchise. It's actually better than the second one. (Which brings up a movie-making corollary. Never, ever cast a family member in a film. See: Capshaw, Kate. Or Coppola, Sophia.)

The obvious issue to be dealt with is Indy's age, and it's handled winningly, which is why the film works. Indiana Jones movies have always been tongue-in-cheek, so they have a built in advantage in this department over, say, the dead-earnest "Rocky" films. It also doesn't hurt that Harrison Ford has kept himself in good shape and doesn't look like a 65 year old guy up there. It's great to see him and Karen Allen together again (and bless her for letting herself age gracefully like a normal person rather than the typical stretch-faced Hollywood star), and the kid what's-his-name adds some fun.

There is, of course, some weird, cultic spirituality on display, but that kind of thing has always been prominent in the archaeology-premised series anyway. More bothersome were a couple of gratuitous s-bombs from the kid. Still, if you're a fan of the Indiana Jones series, you'll find a lot to like in this one. And Spielberg is like a kid in a candy store, stuffing every theme and fantasy he's ever dealt with basically into one film (though now that I think of it, I didn't see a shark's fin). It's gonna make about $300 million bucks, I expect.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Beautiful Mind

If you've never seen this video before, I highly recommend that you take five minutes and have a look. It's an autistic guy who, after flying over a city he's never been to before for 45 minutes, can draw the entire thing in astounding detail days later. It's really quite incredible.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

This Is What The Internet Is For

You'd be sad for me if you had any idea of how much this video delighted me of a guy in his backyard doing impressions of every significant St. Louis Cardinals batting stance of the past 25 years:

Check the links afterwards--he's done other teams and eras too.

(HT: ESPN's Bill Simmons)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Laugh Tracks

I see that AOL appears to have named "TV's Best 50 Comedies of All Time." Most of the programs that should be on the list are on the list, but the numerical rankings are in some cases spectacularly misguided and wrong. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" at 33, just behind "Welcome Back Kotter" and "Will & Grace?" Are you kidding me? Somebody down there needs to put down the crack pipe and smoke a rock of historical perspective instead. Or something like that.

Anyway, putting their inane rankings aside (which we'd be forced to do with any list that put "Mork and Mindy" behind "Happy Days," or which put "Friends" in the top 10), here are the annotated top 10 sitcoms of all time as seen by the final authority on the matter: me, John Rabe.

10. Happy Days: Okay, I know it's not cutting social satire or Oscar Wilde wordplay, but Garry Marshall's show launched the career of Robin Williams, spun off "Laverne and Shirley," made the Fonz the phenomenon of the 70's, and gave us added the term "jump the shark" to the lexicon. Ever use the word "nerd"? Thank "Happy Days." (By the way, this has nothing to do with the topic, but go rent Albert Brooks' "Lost in America" sometime for the scene between Brooks and Garry Marshall as the Desert Inn casino manager. "We don't have Santy Claus." One of my favorite funny movie scenes of all time.)

9. Get Smart: I saw some of these on DVD recently (though they've only been released in Europe, apparently, which is borderline criminal) and the humor holds up surprisingly well. When I was about seven, I used to love to watch it because it had gadgets and spies. I came back to it when I was older and discovered that it was really, really funny. A beautiful combination of slapstick humor and sharp writing. If Mel Brooks and Buck Henry got together today to launch a show, who wouldn't watch that? Well they did do it, and it was tremendous.

8. Arrested Development: Huh? You heard right. This show only lasted about 2 1/2 seasons on Fox, but I've never seen a non-animated program with more funny per minute than AD. It was profane and not for the kiddies (or even sensitive adults), and when my friend Bud told me I had to watch it, I resisted because of the loony, slapstick promos I'd seen. After I'd finally watched one, it was only a matter of days before I'd consumed every available episode on DVD. I still keep hoping against hope they'll bring it back.

7. The Bob Newhart Show: Newhart is funnier struggling to say something than most people are saying anything. I'm rolling his other show, "Newhart" into this ranking too because of its finale--the greatest in television history, filmed before an unsuspecting studio audience.

6. The Simpsons: Out of the gate, this program threatened to be overrun by the merchandising bonanza that surrounded Bart-mania. It had fad written all over it. But 19 years later, they're still there cranking out the densest 30 minutes of comedy on television. And it's still funny. Minute-for-minute, year for year, the funniest program in the history of television.

5. Seinfeld: I know it's an easy choice, but there's no way around it--this show took nothing and made it hilarious. It's hard to believe that this month marks the 10th anniversary of the show's departure. Am I the only one who remembers that Frank Sinatra died on the night of the finale? These people managed to upstage Frank Sinatra's death. Now that's cultural currency! To get a measure of its influence, try double-dipping a chip into the dip at your next party and see what happens.

4. The Dick Van Dyke Show: This program did it all. Never straying beyond the bounds of good taste, this show put together great acting, wonderful characterizations, slapstick, sophisticated story structures, and great dialogue into an irresistible package. In many ways this program set the standard for all future sitcoms, and showed Carl Reiner to be a comic genius.

3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show: This wonderfully talented commedienne mostly played the straight man, allowing the best top-to-bottom cast in sitcom history flourish. Watching this program 30 years after it left the air, I'm coming to realize that however many Emmys Ed Asner won for this, it should've been more. It would be hard to find anyone in sitcom history who was funnier while using fewer words. Seasons 1-4 are available on DVD, and they're fairly inexpensive. Buy them and give yourself a treat.

2. Cheers: It took a real hit after Shelly Long left, but no program has better combined hilarious writing with amazing chemistry the way "Cheers" did. I know that there are even people who prefer the Kirstie Alley years. Those people are idiots. But the years when Diane and Coach were there were something to behold. There's probably no program I wish were still on more than this one.

1. M*A*S*H: Yes, the final eight or so seasons became increasingly pedantic, preachy, and maudlin. Unfortunately after about four seasons of success, somebody handed girly-man Alan Alda the reins and the program never recovered. But those first few seasons are at the apex of anything that's ever been done on TV. There has never, ever been a funnier sitcom character than early Hawkeye Pierce. Larry Gelbart's writing is even more amazing the fifth time you hear it than it was the first.

If pressed, I could probably be pursuaded to bump "Happy Days" in favor of "The Larry Sanders Show" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm." But something tells me the list should be confined to broadcast television in order to be authentic. Feel free to add your own choices in the comments thread.

Coming next (probably after my upcoming vacation): the shows that didn't make the list--and why.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Radio, Radio

If you've been interested in the discussion surrounding the ideas brought forward in Expelled, I'll be hosting a radio program here in South Florida on Friday where my guest at 1pm Eastern will be David Berlinski, the brilliant mathematician and self-described secular Jew who appears in the film (and describes Richard Dawkins as "a bit of a reptile"--he's quite a character).

You can listen live online here--just click on the button in the upper right-hand corner that says "Listen Online." Unfortunately, there's no archived audio yet, so you'll have to tune in live. Again it's at 1pm Eastern. And at about 1:30pm, I'll be talking with Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson about the theology of Jeremiah Wright.