Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Year in Music: 2011 - Part IV

My end of year music recap took a week and a half off but now returns with the final four categories. This post tackles Best New Artist and Album of the Year.

New Artist

This was the easiest category for me for one simple reason: I wasn't really impressed with many new additions to the music scene this year. Only one really stood out for me, so they are the only nominee, and hence, the winner. I'm talking about Scars on 45. I already mentioned a bit about them in the Pop Duo/Group Performance post, and they'll make a couple more appearances yet in subsequent posts, so on to the next category...

Album of the Year

Stronger - Kelly Clarkson
The pop diva has always had great singles, but this is really this first time it's all come together on a full album, top to bottom, in my opinion. There's only one throwaway track here - the lyrically goofy "Einstein" - but the rest provide a variety of tempos, beats and melodies with great energy, and of course, other-worldly vocal performances. Clarkson finally lives up to her status as a pop/rock goddess. Standout tunes include, "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)"; "Dark Side"; "I Forgive You"; and "Breaking Your Own Heart."

The Truth Is... - Theory of a Deadman
TOAD has a track record of being able to craft strong melodies while still maintaining their rock cred. They continue that trend here, albeit a little light on the "rock" end of things. The first four tracks are easily the strongest, and at 16 songs total, there is a bit of filler here - even a lame, ill-advised attempt at a wedding song with "Better or Worse" - but still about nine very listenable songs.

Break the Spell - Daughtry
Another real solid album. Not quite the masterpiece their last effort was, but at least 8-10 songs that I could listen to repeatedly, and that's saying something these days.

Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray - Seether
See above description for the Deadman album, except the part about the first four tracks, and substitute a lame, ill-advised attempt at a country ditty with "Country Song" - inexplicably chosen as the lead single. But there are other rock gems here.

No One Listens to the Band Anymore - The Damnwells
In a perfect world, The Damnwells would be a staple on pop/rock radio. Instead, I find comfort in knowing that I'm one of the lucky few to have discovered them (thanks, Pandora). Alex Dezen is a great songwriter, and this effort showcases that talent. Some weaker tracks on the second half of the CD, but all in all, one of the best of the year.

Sky Full of Holes - Fountains of Wayne
This Loud Morning - David Cook
Wasting Light - Foo Fighters
The King is Dead - The Decemberists
The Return of Spring - Mike Garrigan

Jerammies 2011 - Album of the Year by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Year in Music: 2011 - Part III

...And we continue with Best Pop Solo Performance. One of the category changes the Grammy Awards imposed this year is eliminating the segregation of male and female pop stars. So, now the distinction is simply between duo/group and solo. Here are my picks for the best individual vocal performances of 2011:

Pop Solo Performance

Mr.Know It All - Kelly Clarkson
No doubts here. I don't know anyone on the music scene who can match KC vocally. She basically just needs to open her mouth, but in this case, she's just the perfect choice for this specific song. She effuses the right attitude, which brings what could have been a bland pop ripoff to another level. I actually didn't care for the tune upon first listen, but Kelly won me over.

Fuckin' Perfect - Pink
Another one of the best pure vocalists out there. Don't like all her songs, but can't argue with the pipes.

Aftermath - Adam Lambert
I absolutely detested Lambert while he was on American Idol. His debut album was no masterpiece, but thankfully, someone realized that screaming was not the equivalent of a strong vocal performance. He sounds a lot more natural on the recorded work, and allows his vocal prowess to stand on its own. "Aftermath" was my favorite track as soon as I sampled the album, though it was released as a single to little commercial fanfare.

Edge of Glory - Lady Gaga
I have admittedly been disappointed by the Born This Way album. I was hoping to like it, but it's just not my thing. "Glory" is not a fantastic pop song, but it does showcase the fact that the meat-adorned one is still underrated as a singer.

Lucky Now - Ryan Adams
This is an example of where less can be more. Adams' gravelly voice adds just the right texture to this standout track from his Ashes and Fire CD.

Hey Angel - Mike Garrigan
Still one of the most overlooked singer-songwriters of the last couple decades, Garrigan continues his mastery of pop/rock with this love ditty.

If You Ever Get Lonely - John Waite
I've seen the ex-Babys/ex-Bad English vocalist live three times in recent years, and he's a surprisingly good singer, which doesn't always seem obvious on his recorded work. This is the standout track from his most recent album.

Jerammies 2011 - Pop Solo Performance by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Year in Music: 2011 - Part II

Continuing my nominations for this year's "Jerammies" - time for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Again, going based on the assumption that this category is meant to pay homage to the best vocal performances. This was not as clear-cut of a choice for me to pick a winner, as there's only one person mentioned here who could be considered an out of this world singer. These selections were more about the nuances of the performances, the harmonies, and just creating the right vocal vibe for the particular song. The nominees are:

Pop Duo/Group Performance

Never Gonna Leave This Bed - Maroon 5
I'd say this was, overall, my favorite song of the year. Adam Levine and company put out a great album with Hands All Over, and simply know how to handle a pop song. Both the lead and backing vocals sound great, and flow well throughout the song, creating a bouncy little number that sticks in your head.

Werewolves - The Damnwells
The Damnwells, mainly a vehicle for singer-songwriter, Alex Dezen, have not enjoyed huge commercial success. They do have some great music out there, though. That's why they're tied for the most Jerammy nominations with 4. With whom are they tied? See below.

Give Me Something - Scars on 45
A new band out of the U.K. featuring dual lead vocals from Danny Bemrose and Aimee Driver. They also received nods in 4 categories here on my humble blog. Not having even released a full-length album yet, their two EP's from 2011 provided a nice glimpse into what will hopefully become a strong catalog of pop/rock songs. The version of their catchy first single, "Give Me Something" that I included below is actually a performance sponsored by local radio station 107.1 The Peak, and features a cool coda that blends into a riff on Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."

Don't You Wanna Stay - Jason Aldean featuring Kelly Clarkson
Normally, Kelly would have won anything in this category. However, the fact that this is actually a song from country star, Jason Aldean's album kind of tempered my enthusiasm. Miss C certainly delivers with her trademark killer vocals, but Aldean kind of grates on me, leaving me to honor this one only with a mere nomination (and it IS an honor just to be nominated, right?). 

She Walks in So Many Ways - The Jayhawks
For the First Time - The Script 

Jerammies 2011 - Pop Duo/Group Performance by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Year in Music: 2011

It's that time of year again - when I have nothing better to do than to recap my taste in pop culture from the preceding 300-some-odd days. Last December, I simply listed my top 20 favorites songs of 2010, but in prior years, I had compiled my votes for the Grammy Awards. No, not the actual Grammy's...because they don't really ask my opinion on those. I went ahead and created the "Jerammies" - a cheesy take-off on the real awards, based on my own oddball musical preferences. I decided to revert back to that idea for 2011, but this time, I'm actually sharing my choices with you all (or tormenting you with them, depending on how you look at it). I've selected several of the more mainstream Grammy categories, and tried to remain true to the actual meaning behind the category names (which the actual Grammy voters never seem to do). This year's posts are replete with actual widgets from the Grooveshark site, which will allow you to listen to the songs I've foisted upon you. Wow, see how remarkably technologically inclined I've become?! In any case, in some instances, my selections this year seem to be uncharacteristically in line with the real nominations (I compiled my list before they were announced), but there are still several obscure gems that I feel should have gotten much more exposure. So, without any further babbling, here is the first category.

Rock Performance
The Grammy's condensed some categories this year, including eliminating the separation of solo and group rock performances. I have followed along with the changes here on my blog. Keep in mind, this category is supposed to highlight the best vocal performances in the rock genre. Again, the Grammy voters never seem to take this into consideration, instead just picking their favorite songs. In my mind, vocal performance is not only about who can belt out the loudest and longest, although that helps. It also encompasses matching the right type of voice with the right song, and other more subtle characteristics of the overall performance. That having been said, there is nothing SUBTLE about my pick for the winner in this category (highlighted in blue italics) - it was easily the most clear-cut decision I made in any of the categories. The nominees are:

Slave to the Grind - Halestorm
Lead singer, Lzzy Hale, is one of rock's best kept secrets. I don't know why Halestorm didn't make a bigger splash with their debut album, but this year's Reanimate - The Covers EP provided a few standout tracks to hold me over until their sophomore effort comes out. Chief among them: Heart's "All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," and this rip-your-face-off take on the amazing Skid Row screamer from 1991. Sebastian Bach was perhaps the greatest vocalist of the hair band era, and Lzzy Hale unbelievably almost matches him note for every throat-destroying note on this remake. And, if you check out any live clips on Youtube, you'll see this is no trick of studio engineering; she HITS the notes. Overall, the recording is not an improvement on the original, but the vocal performance deserves to be recognized for what it is: stunning.

The Fire - Rev Theory
The Ballad of Mona Lisa - Panic! at the Disco
Stand - Ed Kowalczyk (ex-lead singer, Live)
Walk - Foo Fighters
Lost in Paradise - Evanescence

Jerammies 2011 by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Case of The Septembers - Part II

Now that I've run down the returning TV shows I'm looking forward to, it's time to take a look at the season's most intriguing new series.

Suburgatory (comedy) - Wednesdays 8:30pm, premieres 9/28: This one hasn't exactly gotten a lot of buzz or received any pre-season promotion, but it caught my eye mainly because it stars Jeremy Sisto and Cheryl Hines, both of whom were featured in the great movie, Waitress. I thought Sisto's performance in that film warranted award consideration, but it went shamefully overlooked. He was also superb in the short-lived TV series, Kidnapped. This new production revolves around a father (Sisto) and his teenage daughter who move from the city to the suburbs. I assume hilarity is supposed to ensue. Doesn't sound like an Earth-shattering premise, but I'm curious enough because of the talent involved. I have a feeling this one won't be around long unless it's REALLY good.

Up All Night (comedy) - Wednesdays 8:00pm, premieres 9/14: This show, starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as a married couple who become first time parents around age 40, didn't initially strike me as one in which I'd be interested. The teaser promos, however, looked pretty funny, so I think I'm going to give this one a swing. With Applegate, Arnett, and SNL alum, Maya Rudolph on board (as well as SNL creator, Lorne Michaels exec producing), there's enough star power here that this one might actually stand a chance of being a breakout hit (hope I don't put my classic jinx on it). But for good measure, it also made Entertainment Weekly's list of the Top 5 best new shows.

Prime Suspect (drama) - Thursdays 10:00pm, premieres 9/22: I typically don't like these detective procedurals. Never watched any of the Law & Orders. Never watched any of the CSI's. Without a Trace, Cold Case...the list goes on. Just not really my type of show. I didn't watch the original British version of Suspect, starring Helen Mirren. And I don't dislike, but don't have any specific love for the current incarnation's lead actress, Maria Bello. So why am I going to watch this one. Dunno. Maybe I just like the idea of latching onto a show for once that doesn't get canceled after one season.

Terra Nova (drama) - Mondays 8:00pm, premieres 9/26: This is, without a doubt, the most widely anticipated new series of the '11-'12 season. They've broken the bank on budget. They couldn't get the special effects done in time to debut in May like they had intended. And, although the program carries cred by having Steven Spielberg's and 24 exec producer Jon Cassar's names attached (and both closely involved), there are virtually no name stars to back that up. Stephen Lang, who did a great job as a villain in Avatar, will be the most familiar face here, and that's not saying much. So, the spotlight is definitely on this sci-fi adventure series, which starts out in a bleak future, and follows a Chicago family, along with others, who are selected to travel back in time to the prehistoric era to have a chance to start life fresh. Should be an interesting ride. Could this be the new Lost?

A Gifted Man - Fridays 8:00pm, premieres 9/23: Starting out your TV run on Fridays never bodes well. Very few series survive here, and it's not exactly seen as a big vote of confidence from the network. But, this is CBS, and last year's freshman entry, Blue Bloods, did OK on Fridays, so maybe they can pull it off again. This one stars Patrick Wilson as a neurosurgeon who suddenly starts receiving visits from his dead ex-wife. It's supposed to be some kind of emotional and spiritual journey story, which is not really the type I usually flock to. But, once again, it's the lead actor bringing me to the table here. After a masterful performance as a creepy pedophile-type in the deeply disturbing but riveting film, Hard Candy, Wilson has strong acting bona fides in my book. He also gave great performances in the vastly underrated Passengers, the serviceable Lakeview Terrace, and the boring (in my opinion) Insidious. So I'm definitely curious to see how that film resume translates to the small screen.

Person of Interest - Thursdays 9:00pm, premieres 9/22: Another entry on EW's Top 5 best new shows list, this one stars Ben mean Michael Emerson, and Jesus mean Jim Caviezel, and was created by J.J. Abrams, who continues to rack up the hits (Felicity, Alias, Lost, Fringe, Cloverfield, Star Trek). Academy Award nominee, Taraji P. Henson rounds out the cast, so there is massive star power here. The premise - Caviezel is a supposed-to-be-dead CIA operative who is recruited by a billionaire (Emerson), who developed a technology that allows him to predict when crimes are going to happen. He enlists Caviezel's character to stop those crimes from taking place. It does borrow a page from the Tom Cruise film, Minority Report, but hopefully Person of Interest will sport the same originality as previous Abrams projects.

2 Broke Girls - Mondays 9:30pm, premieres 9/19: Two words...Kat Dennings.

So that's it. My take on the upcoming television season. All I can say is, thank God for DVR. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Case of The Septembers - Part I

September is always a fun time for entertainment enthusiasts. All of their favorite TV shows return for new seasons, exciting new ones debut, and the action ramps up at the cinema as movie studios start churning out their Oscar season hopefuls. I definitely come down with a case of The Septembers each year, which is a good thing. So, my next three blog posts are dedicated to those TV and Film selections that I'm most highly anticipating.

TV Season 2011-2012

My list of TV shows I'm eagerly awaiting includes 6 returning from last year, 7 new entries, and 1 experiencing an unlikely resurrection after an 11 year hiatus.

Fringe - Not exactly sure why I've hung onto this sometimes intriguing, sometimes lackluster sci-fi adventure for so long, but I guess there's no turning back now. After a real wackjob of an ending to its third season, it will at least be interesting to see where Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and company go from here.

Big Bang Theory - Hands down, the funniest show on TV the past few years. When I originally saw the pilot episode, I thought it was hilarious, but also figured the series would suffer from being a "one-joke show." But, the writers have managed to keep the gang of geeks play video games/hot neighbor thing fresh after four years,  and will hopefully continue to do so at least through 2014, which is when the show has currently been renewed through.

Modern Family - Only because of the aforementioned Theory, this is, hands down, the 2nd funniest show on TV. Great cast, great writing, although the whole thing about wrapping up many of the episodes with a schmaltzy, "this is the theme of this episode" voice-over, gets a little old sometimes.

Harry's Law - I was somewhat surprised that this show got picked up for a 2nd season. It was a mid-season entry last year, and I don't know anyone else who watches it. But I think Kathy Bates is awesome in the lead, and so far the show has a good balance of drama and humor. Not sure how long this one will be around though.

The Good Wife - This series is in danger of devolving into a drippy, forbidden love story. Their version of the Ross and Rachel, "Will they or won't they" scenario, with the Will and Alicia characters, is just about as boring as I could imagine. The show made some serious missteps in my opinion, last season. But, I'm definitely eager to watch the showdown that occurs in the wake of Kalinda's betrayal of Alicia ending Season 2. Juliana Margulies (Alicia) and Archie Punjabi (Kalinda) are two of the best actresses around. I'd probably watch Margulies in just about anything.

The Walking Dead - I'm not so much eagerly anticipating the return of this American Movie Classics series, as I am just wondering what's going to happen. Once I find out, I'm not sure how much longer I'll stay tuned. In fact, as I'm writing this, I'm starting to wonder if I want to continue watching at all. How do you create a show, run it for only 6 episodes, and then make viewers wait nearly a year for Season 2? This better be damn good.

Beavis & Butthead - It's official. After months of news releases, interviews with Mike Judge, etc., October 27th has been announced as the 2011 season premiere date for the long-absent MTV animated series. This will mark the first time I have been excited about turning on MTV in 11 years...the last time a new episode aired. It's about time these fartknockers came back. This is gonna RULE!!

I run down my list of new shows to watch in A Case of The Septembers - Part II...

Monday, September 5, 2011

REVIEW: The Hunger Games

So I did something I practically never do; I jumped on the bandwagon of a completely over-hyped pop culture phenomenon. I read The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. Typically, I won't read or watch something that has sucked in the masses and been discussed in every major (and some not so major) media vehicle. By that time, I feel that I'm only going to be set up for disappointment. Games did a relatively good job of reminding me why I feel that way. I'm not saying it was a bad book. I'm just saying that there was nothing overly compelling about it, and I'm not really sure what warrants all the hoopla.

The story takes place in the future ( mysterious), where the nation of Panem has risen from the ashes of North America. Supposedly, a barrage of natural disasters resulted in the extinction of the former, while the creation of the latter led to the country being divided into 13 districts, "which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens." Subsequently, there was a rebellion of the 13 districts against the governing body of The Capitol, which saw the complete destruction of District 13, and the creation of the annual Hunger Games competition, during which 2 teenagers from each of the remaining Districts are forced to battle to the death until the last one is standing. This leads me to my first issue with The Hunger Games. It's never clarified why there was a nationwide rebellion if all of Panem had been enjoying an extended period of peace and prosperity. If you and everyone you knew were prospering your entire lives, would you rebel against your government? Granted, it's possible this is addressed in one of the subsequent two books, but even if it is, the first novel in a series is supposed to lay the groundwork. That piece of history not being explained at the outset prevented me from believing the entire premise of the story, which is never a good thing.

My second issue with Games, is that, despite the central focus of the story being the intense and bloody battle amongst the 24 contestants (called "tributes") in the aforementioned competition, very little time is spent describing the moments when each tribute dies. I suppose Collins avoids this for obvious reasons, but if you're writing a violent story, you're going to have to include violent aspects of the narrative.

Next, one of the supposed dramatic aspects of the story is that the main character, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, is torn between her growing feelings for Peeta, the other contestant selected from her district, and the fact that at least one of them is eventually going to have to die. The problem is, the budding romance is boring. The real engaging part of the book is the battle for survival, and Collins completely overshadows that with this drippy, bland relationship.

One of the things Collins does well is building the non-romantic relationships in the book. Katniss' affection for her 12-year-old sister, Primrose is sweet and believable. There's a really emotional aspect of that relationship that I will not discuss here, so as not to reveal a critical turning point in the story, but suffice it to say, Katniss' love for Prim, and to some extent, their mother as well, is a central driving force in her determination to defy the odds and win the Hunger Games.

However, this positive aspect of the story also leads to the final, and most grievous flaw of The Hunger Games. 

--SPOILER (but not really) ALERT BELOW--

Since it won't be a huge shock to anyone to find out that Katniss survives the competition, I feel it's safe to mention this here. As with the majority of stories, be them novels or films or what have you, Collins completely fumbles the climax. There is an interesting twist, but it's somewhat predictable, and doesn't compensate for the fact that the description of the final moments of the Hunger Games competition and the immediate aftermath is extremely dissatisfying. In particular, Katniss' emotional response to her victory is simply not believable. Here's someone who never thought she stood a chance, who firmly believed she was facing her last days on Earth, and her reaction, in this blogger's humble opinion, belied that reality. Lastly, Collins never describes Katniss' reunion with her family. What should have been the single most dramatic moment of the story was not even included! I neglected to mention that all of the citizens of Panem are forced to watch the competition on TV, so Katniss' mother and sister have been following her travails the entire way. And we don't get to see their reaction when they first get to embrace their loved one, knowing she's overcome incredible odds to survive?

There were some other intriguing characters and aspects of the story, but overall, the problems I mentioned detracted too much from my reading experience. I don't even think I will be compelled to read the subsequent novels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, to follow the subsequent adventures of Katniss. As for the Hollywood adaptation, how do I resist the urge to see Jennifer Lawrence on screen? Well, I've barely seen any of Jessica Alba's movies, so I suppose logic can prevail here as well.

Now that I've gotten a taste for what happens when I jump on a proverbial bandwagon, I don't feel as left out for not having read or seen any of the Twilights, Harry Potters or Lord of the Rings. OK, so I didn't really feel left out anyway, but you get my point.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Evil Empire (New York Yankees)

I know there are  more important things going on in the world, but this whole deal with the major league baseball trade deadline is getting ridiculous.

The Yankees made headlines this weekend for doing something very unusual for them...nothing. The Yankees made absolutely no deals as the deadline for trading players came and went. Almost every other team in contention across the majors made some kind of move. The Yankees stood pat with what they had. And the sports "journalists" went nuts. How could the Yankees possibly be content with their current roster? How can they possibly think that their starting rotation, the way it is, will carry them through to a championship? Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon can't possibly continue pitching like this. And on and on and on.

Forgive me if I'm remembering this incorrectly - my nearly 40-year-old brain is not always what it used to be - but I seem to recall the Yankees being branded the "Evil Empire" (by a Red Sox executive, of all people), because they always just go out and buy up whatever players they need. I seem to recall that this has been the chief gripe that fans and writers alike, across the country, have put forth for the past 15 years of NYY dominance. The Yankees have an unfair advantage. They have so much money - of course they win every year. They buy all their championships. First of all, that's been hogwash from the beginning. Show me another team that features three homegrown players who have played together for 16 years straight. Show me another team with yet a fourth homegrown player who played nearly all of those seasons with the other three. Show me another team with still a fifth homegrown player whose career overlapped some of the tenure of the other four. The Yankees got where they are today with the core of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams. And today, they continue on with Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, and the like. Yes, they have made many significant free agent acquisitions and blockbuster trades during their championship run. That's baseball, folks. Every team does it. The Yankees are just better at it.

So now that Brian Cashman decides that his homegrown prospects are too valuable to trade for the players who were available, he's getting flack from all ends. Do we know if Garcia and Colon will hold up? No. Do we know which AJ Burnett will show up the rest of the way? No. Do we know if Phil Hughes will be able to recover from his unexplainable velocity and command issues? No. But the fact is, the Yankees have six starting pitchers who all, at one time or another, have been dominant. Is this really a problem? If they make deals, then they're buying championships. If they insist on developing their prospects, then they're doing a disservice to their fans by not fortifying the team for a World Series run. Can someone please explain what exactly it is that they're supposed to do? I, for one, am content with watching how this one plays out, and am looking forward to seeing how the new crop of stars pans out over the next couple of years.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Passage

Well, it's been about four months since my last post. Nothing inspiring to write about, I guess. I spent enough time reading this almost-800-page book, though, so I figured it was at least worth a mention. "The Passage" by Justin Cronin has been out for quite a while, and everything I had read about it was pretty much anointing it the book of the decade, or something close. I'd probably stop short of that, although Cronin is certainly a talented writer.

"The Passage" is presented as the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy that tells the story of a mystical girl named Amy. Why you can't tell an entire story in 780-something pages is beyond me, but apparently, there must be a reason. The strengths of the book are that Cronin definitely shows his prowess as an author, particularly when describing death, despair, and loneliness (of which there is much...the setting being post-apocalyptic and all), and also that Amy, around five years old when the story begins, is a highly sympathetic character. The main gripe I have with the book is that, for a central character, she barely appears in the book at all. To be more accurate, she's referred to or is present in many scenes, but for reasons I won't explain so as not to give away too many details, she isn't doing anything in the lion's share of those scenes. There is a whole chunk of the middle of the book in which she isn't even there at all, however. So, while I cared about Amy for the first 200 or so pages, my attention waned after that.

"The Passage" tells the story of how the United States (and perhaps the's never made clear), is overrun with a horrific virus that has turned a vast majority of the population into bloodthirsty, vampiric creatures - not of the Twilight ilk, for sure, nothing romantic about the "virals" as they're called. The surviving humans are scattered across the country, condemned to live fearful existences within the walls of colonies where they can be protected from the dangers lurking outside. They're so isolated that they pretty much don't know if anyone else outside their walls still lives. The beginning of the book makes passing reference to how the outbreak all began (a doctor conducting experiments, trying to harness the virus as a cure for disease and aging), how the U.S. government and military gets involved (securing a number of death row inmates as the first human test subjects, leading to them becoming the first "virals"), and introduces us to Amy, who is also virtually kidnapped by the government and subjected to testing, although the virus seems to have an altogether different effect on her. One of the other main problems with the narrative is that it shifts the action from five to ten years (I was confused as to which it was) prior to the beginning of the story, to 92 years, and in a roundabout way, also 1,003 years forward. The circumstances surrounding the beginning of the experiments (that's the five to ten years prior part) are never fully explained, with the time shift and description of what was happening then becoming very jarring to the reader (at least to me). It was never clarified how or why the government inserted itself into this situation, or how they knew there was anything special about Amy.

After the first 200 or so pages, the narrative suddenly flashes 92 years into the future, and it's at this point where all reference to Amy abruptly disappears. We're then introduced to the first of the aforementioned colonies of survivors, located somewhere in California. The problem is, there are so many people living there, that it's really difficult to grow attached to any of the characters. And it was a bit unnerving to suddenly have to focus on a slew of new main characters this deep into the book. For about the next 300 pages, I really didn't care about anything that was happening, and that's a pretty long stretch of boredom when you're reading a novel. It wasn't until a seemingly un-aged Amy reappears and comes into contact with the colony, and a handful of the inhabitants decide to venture into the wilderness with her in tow, that things really begin to get compelling again. They're forced to live off the land, and seek shelter, food and weapons wherever and however possible, all while fighting off the lurking virals. They've discovered Amy's secret...that she has remained a young girl for almost a century, and they've intercepted a radio transmission passing through a chip that the government had implanted in her neck during the long ago experiments. That message makes their goal to return Amy to the site of those experiments in Telluride, Colorado. It's a dramatic and intriguing journey, to say the least. But I found the anticipation to be much more rewarding than the ultimate payoff. Once they arrive in Colorado, and get their hands on the original doctor's files, they don't seem to learn any more than what we, the readers, already knew. I was expecting some kind of big reveal regarding how Amy got the way she was, why she was chosen for the experiments, why they didn't affect her the same way as they did the virals, and most of all, why they were supposed to bring her back. Also, the killing off of one of the central bad guys (the head viral, I guess you could call him), was completely unsatisfying. This is a mistake that many Hollywood films make as well...they don't know how to stage the climactic battle scenes. Considering how adept Cronin was at describing other characters' deaths in vivid, haunting detail, I was surprised that he fell flat at this critical moment.

At various interludes in the story, we are taken to the year 1,003 A.V. (I'm assuming "After Virus" - another thing that is never made clear). There is no actual descriptive action taking place in these chapters; the headings just reference the date and some sort of educational conference in Australia, with the text comprised of passages from the writings of two of the characters whom we know from the California colony in the year 92 A.V. So, obviously the world has moved on from the virus, and people are studying the events of all those years ago. It makes for an interesting narrative tool, and lays the groundwork for a somewhat stunning, book-ending cliffhanger. I guess I should have seen that coming, knowing there were more books in the series.

All in all, "The Passage" was compelling enough for me to want to read the next installment. I still can't get over the fact, however, that the postscript states that "The story of Amy continues in 'The Twelve' coming in 2012," when this first book really wasn't much of a story of Amy to begin with. I mean, in spirit it was, because everything that happened is somehow tied to her, but so little of the actual ACTION of the story directly involves her. I hope we get to know her a lot better in "The Twelve."


Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Year in TV

My track record of finding great new TV shows to watch is spotty, at best. I always seem to pick the ones that get canceled within or after one season. Here's a rundown of what I've been watching this year, and my take on each.

The Event
Harry's Law
The Chicago Code
The Good Wife
Modern Family
Better With You
Mr. Sunshine
Big Bang Theory

Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, and to a lesser extent, The Good Wife are examples of the rare times that I get hooked on shows that actually become bona fide hits. It happens occasionally, as with Lost, 24, and a few others over the years, but as with most things, my tastes usually run against the grain. MF and BBT are both hilarious returning sitcoms that should be around for several more seasons. The Good Wife was a breakout hit drama from the 2009-10 season, but has seen a small dropoff in viewership this year. Juliana Marguilies is basically the reason to watch this show. They featured some interesting rivalries this year, but the plots have kind of been all over the place. Whereas, she is probably one of the most likable actors on TV, and is what keeps people coming back.

Fringe has been hanging on for a few seasons, despite middling ratings, and I'm not really sure what to make of it. I don't love it. But, I guess it's been interesting and creative enough to have held my attention span this long. It's at the point where you just have to hold on to find out where it's all leading.

The other returning show on this list is the reboot of the 80's sci-fi mini-series, and then short-lived recurring series, V. When it debuted in 2009, I thought the first few episodes stunk. They were sloppily written, I didn't care about the characters too much, and I just didn't see what was going to suck me in. However, something happened after that, and the character development, dramatic tension, and acting, all made leaps and bounds. It was renewed for a 2nd season despite not exactly enjoying a ratings bonanza, and once again, it's on the ropes after having just ended a 10-episode "mini-season." TV networks don't typically cut the episode order to 10 as a vote of confidence, and the short time frame definitely detracted from the horrific season finale. The writers/producers were obviously attempting to wrap things up hastily, and the result was an unmitigated mess of cliched writing, implausible plot elements, and character deaths meant for shock value, but which will substantially suck the life from the various interactions/rivalries on the show, if it's somehow brought back for Season 3.

The Event is another one of those sci-fi "what the hell is going on" thrillers that sprung up in the wake of Lost. The TV networks never know how to position these series, as was seen with the brief, one season-life of Flash Forward and many before it. Plots that no one can follow, more questions than answers, answers that end up being cop outs, and those long hiatuses between "Part 1" of the season and "Part II." When is someone in the industry going to figure out that the viewers do not return after 8 weeks of no new episodes? The Event is OK, but I'm sad to say, I'm not sure if I will even miss it if it gets canned, which it likely will be.

Two freshman comedies, Better With You and Mr. Sunshine, are both likely on shaky ground for renewals. "Sunshine" probably has a better shot due to the star power of Matthew Perry, and to a lesser extent, Allison Janney. I was one of maybe five people who loved Perry's last attempt at a post-Friends series - the grossly underrated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which suffered from debuting around the same time as the similarly themed 30 Rock, and not starring the inexplicably idolized Tina Fey. This time, Perry is a sarcastic (no, really?), seemingly self-absorbed manager of a sports arena, who has trouble relating to his underlings. Some bizarre characters on this one, but Perry's delivery really holds it all together. All his characters might be, in some way, retreads of Chandler, but if it ain't broke....

Better With You suffers from lack of network promotion and lack of star power. That 70's Show's Debra Jo Rupp is the most well-known, with Joanna Garcia (otherwise known as wife of New York Yankees outfielder, Nick Swisher) pulling up the rear. The show illustrates the parallels between Mia's (Garcia) relationship with her new husband, the relationship between Mia's sister, Maddie, and the guy she's been with for several years without marrying, and that of Mia and Maddie's parents. The writing is at times goofy, but mostly funny and observant. Unfortunately, this one probably has run its course.

The last two are Monday mid-season replacements, The Chicago Code and Harry's Law. "Code" was pretty much dead on arrival, so no sense in getting into too much detail. There are cops and politicians. Some are corrupt. Some aren't. Crimes happen and get solved. It takes place in Chicago. The one amazing thing about this show is how stunning Jennifer Beals still looks at 48, a full 28 years after she burst on the scene in Flashdance. Wowzer!

Happily, there is one bona fide dramatic hit this season, and it's David E. Kelley's Harry's Law. The rare show driven by a 63-year-old lead actress (Kathy Bates), it's practically a lock to return for a full Season 2, and deservedly so. It started out tenuously, with Kelley's trademark quirkiness threatening to get in the way of his otherwise solid writing. But the "loopy" factor has since been tamped down a bit, in lieu of continued witty scripting and solid, unusual but believable and sympathetic character relationships, and standout acting performances all around - particularly by Bates, and co-star Christopher McDonald, also up there in the age department. Bates plays a former patent lawyer who now takes criminal cases in watching out for the residents of a ghetto-esque Cincinnati neighborhood. But this is anything but a typical courtroom procedural. It's about the people, not the trials. If Kelley doesn't go off the deep end, as he did with Boston Legal, then I hope this one will be around for a while.

Here's hoping there are some new gems to watch, come September.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Something New

Well it's the start of another year (and technically, a new decade - what are we calling this one?). So, time for another venture. As many of you know, I have been unemployed for quite a while now. I moved back to New York, from Las Vegas, in search of more plentiful opportunities, but my thoughts are now leading me in a somewhat different direction. This is likely to be the year of the personal brand. With many folks in similar situations as I, there will likely be many headfirst dives into the world of entrepreneurship and solo practitioner-ship (a new term - I coined it first). This trend, combined with the proliferation of social media and other technological tools, will give rise to a revolution in personal branding. Be it through launching new companies, blogging, publishing e-books, public speaking, or what have you, people all over are going to be finding new ways of communicating what it means to experience a business relationship with them.

I, for one, will be launching a marketing consulting practice and associated business & marketing blog. One of the first steps in establishing my personal brand is choosing a logo for my company, enthcast Marketing & Consulting. To that end, I am running a competition on a Web site called 99designs, where an array of artists worldwide have submitted their design ideas based on my instructions. I have narrowed the field down to my Top 8 choices, which are viewable below. If you click on the VOTE NOW button, it will take you to the voting page, where you can rate and comment on each selection. This process will help me get an idea of how the masses would subconsciously react to each of these logos, were I to choose them. Think about who you would want giving you marketing guidance if you were the owner of a small to medium-sized business. The more votes logged, the more significant the results will be, so your participation is greatly appreciated! Happy New Year everyone, and may your new adventures be as prosperous as I hope mine will be.

Custom Logo Design at 99designs