Strike Gold: Our Five Precious Finds on the Mid-Strike Dial
As the Hollywood writers' strike draaags on and we continue to wade through the backchannels for fresh television fare, we occasionally find a new performer or a striking scene that makes all our incessant channel-surfing worth the trouble. We're mighty curious to hear what programming is getting you through the writers' strike, so to start things off, here are Five Things About Television's New Year that already are keeping us from our Netflix and On Demand viewing:
1. Stephen Colbert's Sans-Writer Brilliance: Perhaps it's purely a tribute to Colbert's having so thoroughly created his O'Reilly-esque character -- in its own way, as committed and sustained a character performance as Daniel Day-Lewis channeling a California oilman -- but Colbert's rhythms and interplay and sense of moment are so keen that the jokes (or technically, "non-jokes," if we believe in strike rules) are secondary to the laffs that emanate from pure character. No wonder he and Steve Carell were Second City improv's mainstage stars back in the day. So: Tip of the hat. Mr. Colbert! And a Wag of the Finger to Jay Leno, whose "non-jokes" aren't fit to breathe Colbert's Doritos-tinged air.
2. Anthony Bourdain's new season: Before there was the cheery, lamb-eyeball-eating Andrew Zimmern, there was (and is) the lanky, edgy, 50-something Anthony Bourdain, the chef/hedonist whose food travelogues are richly marinated in each culture he visits. The latest season of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations" took us to Singapore, where seemingly everyone Bourdain encountered was an expert foodie -- especially on the must-have (Hainanese) chicken rice. New-daddy Bourdain looked so blissed-out in Singapore, we were "this* close to clicking Expedia for rates.
3. Jon Stewart's "Strike Unibrow": After the "strike beards" of Letterman and O'Brien quickly felt trite-and-true, played out for half-hearted jokes, Jon Stewart returned with a meta-joke: his daunting "unibrow" -- grown since going off the air -- that looked as if a steroids-injected caterpillar had decided to rest eternal between Stewart's natural brows. Now, if only the rest of the midstrike Stewart show were as inspired.
4. David Simon's Big Venting at Media: "The Wire" creator David Simon has famously been called the "angriest man on television," and if the final-season debut of the show is any indication, he's about to spend an entire season exorcising old demons from his "Baltimore Sun" days in the '90s. Simon has long vented publicly about his former Sun bosses John Carroll and Bill Marimow (the latter a name that Simon has copped to use for a police character), but this season promises to be just plain nasty -- and personal. Whether it makes for the stuff of "Wire's" usual high-caliber entertainment will be debatable, but from a journalistic standpoint, this is one big-time grudge match (will Simon ever let it go? Or is this experience his creative golden goose?) that will play out center-stage. Deliciously.
5. MSNBC v. FOX election flipping: We just can't help ourselves regarding our election-night coverage. From the Iowa caucus to the New Hampshire primary, we turn to Fox for the conservative spin for five minutes, then quickly flip to MSNBC for coverage that leans left, then soon flip back. Amid all the talking heads and "predicted winners," this twin-channel tele-dynamic somehow animates the coverage all the more -- not unlike the effect of a flip-book or a spinning Victorian zoetrope. All the perspectives, all the blather, all the wall-to-wall punditry -- somehow, riding astride two horses in this media circus is more thrilling, and perhaps keeps the rider a tad more "fair and balanced."
-- MICHAEL CAVNA
TV Editor, Style
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