Archive for the ‘television’ Category

What do Hillary Clinton and Muammar Gadhafi Have in Common?

June 20, 2007

I was totally satisfied with the final scene of “The Sopranos.”  The show was at its root a family drama, and so it was appropriate to have the dysfunctional family gather one last time for a meal.  And when Tony glances at the door, with a strange, hard-to-read expression, and the screen cuts to black. the ambiguity, too, felt right.  Maybe Tony saw his killer walk into the resturant, or maybe it was just Meadow who was late because of her repeated attempts at parking.   It was a convenient ending, too: because the Sopranos were not killed off, HBO can always resurrect the show if James Gandolfini needs an infusion of cash.

I have been suffering Sopranos withdraw, though, and to get a fix, I tuned in this morning to Hillary and Bill’s parody of the final scene.  At first, before I actually saw it, I thought the idea was brilliant.  Finally Hillary could wipe that forced smile off her face, show us her true relaxed, playful self, and ride the coattails of television’s most popular dramatic series.  But a few seconds into the YouTube video, I saw that even with all the high-powered coaching she must have received, the woman was stiff.  She can’t act.  She can’t relax, at least not in front of a camera.  She makes Al Gore look like Laurence Olivier. 

And, then, whatever pop culture points she got by mixing it up with the Sopranos were lost when she unveiled her campaign song, “You and I,” by Celine Dion, who is not exactly Canada’s hippest export.  I suppose Hillary is making herself look presidential by associating herself with a singer who is a favorite of other heads of state. 

When I talked my way into the World Chess Championship in Tripoli in 2004 (we did not have diplomatic relations with Libya then), I was amused to hear Celine Dion playing in the airport where I was detained and interrogated on suspician of being, not a chess journalist, but CIA.  “Leader,” as Muammad Gadhafi was creepily called by his subjects, apparently enjoyed listening to Dion and thought everyone else should, too.

You can read all about my strange adventures in Tripoli in my forthcoming book, King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.


You Can Buy King’s Gambit at: | | |


R.I.P., Mr. Wizard

June 14, 2007


Sadly, Mr. Wizard has finally retired, not just from television but from the corporeal world.  Don Herbert, the host of “Watch Mr. Wizard,” the  science show for children that ran on NBC from 1951 to 1965, died Tuesday in Los Angeles at the age of 89.  In my kooky Sixties household, I was limited for awhile to half an hour of television of week, so “Watch Mr. Wizard” had to compete with “Howdy Doody” and later “Gilligan’s Island”  But the folksy Mr. Wizard, who had no advanced education, sometimes won out and fueled my childhood interest in science.  The conceit of the show was that he always performed a science experimentone with a minimum of equipmentfor a kid from the neighborhood.   

Mr. Wizard’s cultural significance can’t be overestimated.  According to his obit in The New York Times, “During the 1960s and ’70s, about half the applicants to Rockefeller University in New York, where students work toward doctorates in science and medicine, cited Mr. Wizard when asked how they first became interested in science.”

Annals of Luddism, I

May 16, 2007

I like to imagine that Woodstock has more manual typewriters per capita than any other place in the country.  After all, these earth-friendly machines don’t consume electricity. 

I can’t get television in my Woodstock home.  Time Warner won’t string a cable down my long dirt road, and the neighbors’ pines and oaks rule out DirectTV.  Cell-phone reception is awful or nonexistent in the town because the manual-typewriter crowd has blocked the construction of cell towers. 

I need a cell phone that works in the Catskills, and so for years I was reduced to a no-frills, drab Nokia where the whole phone is effectively the antenna, maximizing the chances of reception.  Every few months or so I’d try a friend’s flip phone in Woodstock but it wouldn’t get a signal.  Because I am fidgety, the Nokia in my pocket, with its buttons exposed, would occasionally decide to call people on its own.  (Yes, I could use the number lock, but I’m afraid of forgetting the code.) 

A short time ago my pocket embarrassed me by making an early-morning call to a client who had been delinquent in paying me.  Usually I’d call the client’s office number during work hours to prod him for the money, but my pocket apparently had had enough and decided to call his cell—at 7:00 A.M.  I didn’t know what my pocket had done until I received a call at 7:01 A.M. from the miffed client, whom I had evidently disturbed while he was taking his sick pet to the vet.  I told him I hadn’t phoned him; later I reviewed the outgoing call log and saw that my phone had indeed called him. 

Nokia finally introduced a flip phone that works in Woodstock.  My pocket’s calling days are thankfully over, but, now for reasons unknown to me, other people’s pockets are calling me more than ever before. 


The pocket of a guy I know in the musical toy business has called me four times recently; I answered and heard muted voices or, in the evening, happy bar talk.  Actually I’m not sure I’ve ever had a two-way phone conversation with Mr. Toyman.  I’ve just listened to myself jabbering into the phone—like the tree that falls in the forest with no one around to hear it. 

Madness in Chess Alert

May 15, 2007

The Jerk  

Credit: Isabella Vosmikova/FOX.

Tonight’s episode of House, called “The Jerk,” features a sixteen-year-old chess prodigy with serious behavioral problems. Tune it for such memorable lines as, “It’s a real thin line between tortured genius and awkward kid who can’t get girls because he’s creepy.”

Annals of Envy, Part I

May 14, 2007

Be warned Sopranos’ fans: if you haven’t yet seen last night’s episode, please stop reading this now!

I tuned into the show ten minutes late, just in time to see a battered Tony and Chris in the aftermath of a bad car wreck.  Chris, who’s in terrible shape and is coughing up blood, confesses to T that he’s not clean and begs the mob boss to help him. Chris is afraid of losing his license once the police arrive and he is tested for drugs.  Tony, who’s gotten as far as dialing 91 on his cell phone, could make Chris’s worries go away simply by taking his place in the driver’s seat. 

Instead, he shockingly suffocates his second cousin, blocking Chris’s nose so that he chokes on his own blood.  The scene is particularly disturbing because it’s not clear whether Tony is convinced that Chris is going to die before an ambulance arrives and is merely trying to cut short his suffering or whether he is cruelly murdering him. 

The latter proves to be the case: in imaginary (dream) and real sessions with his therapist, Jennifer Melfi, we learn that Tony despises his cousin.  Tony sees Chris as a weak, sniveling drug addict who can’t be trusted not to rat to the Feds.  His contempt for Chris knows no bounds: he beds one of Chris’s old girlfriends and does peyote with her, too.

Now I like Christopher Moltisanti, and I’ll miss him in the last three episodes.  If I were the kind of guy who let envy get the better of me, I’d rejoice at Chris’s death.  After all, he had the scorching hot girl, Adrianna (even if he ultimately had to off her), and he made a Hollywood movie, which I want to do.  And Michael Imperioli, who plays Chris, isn’t just a good actor, he’s encroached on the writing world by penning several episodes of The Sopranos.  What’s more, the real-life Chris had a bar in Manhattananother dream of mineand has a rock band, called La Dolce Vita, for which he is the lead singer and guitarist (while I am relegated to the ranks of the tone-deaf).  Oh yes, and he and his lovely, talented wife also own a theater.  But, as I said, I’m not the envious sort.