popular thinking

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"Lost" star seeks redemption

You could say that about a lot of the characters in ABC's Lost, that they're seeking redemption. But even more so for Dr. Jack, played by Matthew Fox.

On Lost, he became, reluctantly or not, the leader for the survivors of Oceanic 815. He has made tough choices trying to lead them out of tragedy and into recovery, into redemption. Sounds not all that different from his first starring turn on TV's Party of Five, where he was the eldest child of sudden orphans, struggling to lead them. Or from his first major feature film, this winter's We Are Marshall, where he played the real-life assistant football coach who struggled to help lead his team and his college back after a plane crash.

So I asked Fox if this pattern meant something more significant. I had the chance to meet him in a one-on-one interview during his winter break from filming Lost.

“I’m obviously attracted to those types of things, darker material and heavy material, but you know, my friends and the people that are close to me will always say there’s a real, goofy, light side to me, too. And when I got the opportunity to do SNL, I knew that I was going to have a ball. But it even surpassed that so much. I had the greatest week over there,” Fox told me. “It was the most fun I’d have had doing something as a performer. It was really incredible.”

But what about those darker-themed stories?

“I think that’s one of those things that you probably have the objectivity on it well enough to see parallels on those kinds of choices that I can’t,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t ever really know why I choose certain material. I wish I had a formula to figure that out. But I don’t. Sometimes I read things that I think are quite good, but I don’t connect to. And then some things just become inevitable in a way. You kind of connect to them in a way you don’t understand and then you lay awake at night, sweating it and freaking out over it and trying to find ways to not do it, to eliminate it. And then you finally kind of fall over the ledge of that inevitability and you just freefall into the truth of the fact that you have to do it. You know? No matter how scary or difficult it’s going to be, or what it’s going to put you through, you just finally hit that moment where you’re like, I really have no choice but to be involved in the telling of this story. So, yeah, I do find myself making choices that are difficult. But there’s also a lot of challenge in that. I think, yeah.”

It certainly doesn't come from some tragedy in his own life -- at least not from what he told me, saying he “couldn’t feel more blessed in my personal life,” from his wife and children to his brothers and parents. Fox did suggest, though, that growing up in a small Wyoming town probably has unconsciously shaped his acting choices.

“There’s a beautiful sadness to those kind of places, and I am very much attracted to that. I love that. That’s a huge defining part of who I am, is growing up where I grew up. There’s no question about that,” he told me. “But then, there’s that thing that I go for, and then there’s the fun I had really letting the goofball side of myself go on SNL.”

And that's when Fox decided that, if anything, his choices reflect a desire for redemption.

“Redemption is a massive part of the choices, I know that. And you can look at almost any story and they’re stories of redemption. The basic premise and the structure of storytelling has an innate, built-in element of redemption to it,” Fox said. “But I find myself really attracted to stories that are more focused on that element of a man redeeming himself. And that, that’s tied into all of our -- men, women, the human species -- need to attempt to redeem yourself through your life. To try to become the person you want to be, and oftentimes are falling short of. And so, yeah, I think that. But you look at the choices I’ve made…there’s definitely something in it there, yeah.”

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Preparing for Aspen

The 2007 HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival officially begins Wednesday in Aspen, Colo.

I'll be there. Hanging out. Laughing. Writing. Blogging. Taking photographs. Making merry. Interviewing comedians. Reporting for various official and unofficial media outlets. Who knows what else? The fun will be in the finding out.

Come back here daily for updates. Thanks!

RELATED: Visit the festival site.

UPDATED: Steven Wright just appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live tonight to promote his Aspen appearance (but mostly his DVD release). Wright said he's excited that George Carlin will be in Aspen, too. "He's one of the reasons I wanted to be a comedian," Wright said. He also said he is a skier. But only when he's skiing. Eggsactly.


MTV will try scripted comedy again in April

Over the past few years, MTV has relied more and more on "reality" programming, so it came as a surprise to me today to read that the network formerly known for music television will launch a new scripted sketch comedy series this spring. Watch this preview of Human Giant, featuring Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer and Jason Woliner. It'll premiere April 5.

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My journalism teachers in the news

Well, two of my journalism teachers have gotten some ink and coverage of their own recently.

Gayle Wald taught my first journalism class, a high-school elective in my junior year, and served as faculty advisor for our school paper when I became its editor-in-chief. But she left the school my senior year so she could pursue grad school at Princeton, where I ended up the next year, providing the odd sight every now and then of both of us going to class. Anyhow. Her latest book, Shout Sister Shout!, got a B grade in Entertainment Weekly.

My senior year at Princeton, I took a nonfiction journalism seminar by this new visiting professor, Samuel Freedman. Freedman must've liked his experience teaching us, because he has continued his seminars at Columbia, and the success of his students got the attention of NPR today. I liked the experience, too, by the way. Very challenging class. Especially when you're trying to assign yourself and complete a longform nonfiction narrative, which means you're scheduling time off-campus to find and interview subjects. And at the same time, you've got a senior thesis to research, write and publish. And it's senior spring. So yes, very challenging class. But I'm glad I did it. Scared to look at some of the papers I turned in. But I'm glad I did it.

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In Hollywood, not all gangs are created equal

With The Departed winning the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director (along with editing and adapted screenplay) and with The Black Donnellys making their TV debut tonight, it's yet another reminder that Hollywood romanticizes Irish gangs -- see both examples above -- and Italian mobs (The Godfather, The Sopranos). Have you seen all of the TV ads for tonight's series premiere for The Black Donnellys? "Family above all." NBC keeps telling viewers, look at what these brothers will do for each other. Aw, shucks.

Do you ever think a TV network would say that about a group of black or Hispanic gangsters? NBC trotted out Kingpin in 2003, but that show about a Mexican drug trafficker and his family didn't make it past six episodes. Perhaps West Side Story, as a movie musical, cast the Puerto Rican gangsters in a sympathetic light. And a new HBO documentary, Bastards of the Party, examines the history of street gangs in Los Angeles.

But really, though, back to the original question.

Why does Hollywood treat Irish and Italian mobsters differently from street toughs of other racial and ethnic heritages? Why do critics treat them differently? It's worth asking, isn't it?

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Comedians at the Oscars?

Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly demonstrate why comedians get short shrift from the Academy Awards, in this musical number from last night's overly long, not quite thrilling, ceremony. Interesting, though, how they tried to infuse comedians into the show, from host Ellen (why the vacuum? why? why????) to Jerry Seinfeld's mid-show monologue (did he think he was taking over as host?).


Comedians against Carlos Mencia

The backlash against Carlos Mencia has shifted into higher gear over the past seven days, as these two videos will attest. I'll have plenty more to say about this later, but for now, just watch these videos, one in which Joe Rogan publicly accuses Mencia of joke stealing in front of a Comedy Store audience, the other being a parody of Mencia.

Warning: These videos include profanities

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Assessing American Idol's Top 24

OK. So the live shows finally begin next week for American Idol. I think we can mostly all agree that Idol's producers gave short shrift this year to Hollywood week, essentially reducing it to only one hour, and not even giving us any sort of update on dozens of singers profiled during the audition specials...from Sanjaya's sweet sister to the opera singer, the girl with the little girl voice, the carhop girls, the guy who looked like Tyson Beckford's little brother, the guy who sang Christian tunes with a Fidel Castro hairdo, Tami Gosnell (we only saw her saying she didn't make the final cut, without learning why), and the same went for the guy who looked like "a little fun Ruben." What gives, Idol?

At the same time, we also discovered that of the Top 24, we had barely even seen seven of them before the final cut episode. So it'll be up to next week's live shows to prove whether Amy Krebs, AJ Tabaldo, Jared Cotter, Leslie Hunt, Nicole Tranquillo, Sabrina Sloan and Stephanie Edwards have what it takes. Not that it cannot be done. Two years ago, Bo Bice emerged from out of nowhere (OK, so it was Constantine's shadow) to become the runner-up. But usually, the show lets us see its favorites right from the get-go. So these contestants have their work cut out from them, particularly because they haven't gotten an equal chance to build the popularity required to burn up those phone lines on show nights.

As for the rest?

My initial gut instinct is to say that Chris Sligh and Melinda Doolittle are the first-week frontrunners. They've got the singing chops. They're different from past champs. And they've both showcased winning personalities. They should launch successful careers no matter how they fare from here on out.

But I reserve the right to modify my stance on the eventual finalists as I review the tapes myself. You can catch up, too, by clicking on the show's Top 24 page here.

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Mailbag: More on the Lost HEMA Theory

My new Lost penpal Todd Hostager writes...


I've left the HEMA Theory statement on the "Home" page of my website. FYI, there is a one-paragraph addition to the virus section, near the beginning on the "Home" page, touching on Ethan as evidence that DHARMA may have conducted gene therapy experiments on humans. In particular, this may account for Ethan's super-human strength. The first application may have been to devise a gene therapy approach to amplifying human psychic powers. See the "Home" page section "What's Up With The Virus?", in this regard.

More importantly, on a separate page on the HEMA website, I've placed some intriguing commentary on Lost Episode #56, involving Desmond, identifying five levels of HEMAtic existence manifest on the show, and drawing in work by a quantum physicist, which provides some of the scientific underpinning for the HEMA dynamic....

Here's the link to the new, second page on my site:

Of course, please feel free to share/distribute this site with any and all who may be interested.... Gotta run home for some supper, now! Todd

Now for my new two cents...In this week's episode, we saw the imploded remnants of the Swan hatch, which reminded me of something we haven't seen: Anyone pushing the number buttons to disperse the electromagnetic energy every 108 minutes. What will be the consequences of this? I'm guessing the show's writers somehow tie this into the real-life South Pacific tsunami at the end of 2004. They already hinted at another real-life incident last week, when Juliet dated her arrival at the islands as Sept. 11, 2001. Of course, we'll need another flashback for her to sort that all out. Right? As for Desmond's "flashes" back and forward, I'm figuring that his close proximity to the electromagnetic pulse resulted in quite a bit of time warping. More to come. Obviously.


Mailbag: VH1 admits error, provides solution

In this installment, read how VH1 plans on addressing Wednesday night's server issues with the "Pop Culture I.Q. Test" to qualify for the World Series of Pop Culture.

Dear Sean,
Thank you for your interest in “The World Series of Pop Culture 2007” PCIQ Test. Due to a server problem, the 7pm test was unable to be administered.
We have decided to reschedule the 7:00 pm session on TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20th at 7pm EST (6:00 pm Central).
Again, please accept our apologies for the technical difficulties.

Thank you again for your interest in participating.
Toni Herron VH1/Director of Communications

So all of you pretenders who want to take me on, please make a note of this. See you Tuesday night!

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Intriguing Lost theory of all theories

Lots of fans of ABC's Lost have offered their explanation for what's really going on on the island, but this guy, one Dr. Todd J. Hostager, has really put some thought into his overall HEMA theory. He doesn't mention the "Carrie" book-club selection by the Others, and why Ben really wouldn't like that book, as was mentioned on the third-season premiere, but it would seem to fit in with Hostager's hunch.

Read it here.

Tonight's episode, focusing on Desmond's psychic abilities, may help Hostager's cause even further. We'll see soon enough.


PCIQ Test Broken!?

Attempted to take the 2007 World Series of Pop Culture "Pop Culture IQ Test" tonight, to no avail. The computer servers kept responding with error messages, asking to reload every time I got done filling out all of the contact information and agreeing to the show's terms and conditions. Since the test only gave you between 7:00 and 7:10 p.m. to begin the test, I got in about five attempts to take the test, all to no avail. Something about that isn't right. I don't know what will happen during the 10 p.m. window, nor do I know if I'll even be available to take the test then. Something about that isn't right.

VH1 and EW should fix this, make it better!

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Idols to watch in Hollywood Week

Last year, I said on live TV that I thought the two American Idols to watch in 2006 were Katharine McPhee and Chris Daughtry. That seemed to work out OK. So...who am I keeping an eye on this year as Idol's Hollywood Week starts tonight? There are 172 contestants. We've seen barely half of them so far. But of those, keep track of these 20 tonight and tomorrow and see if they make the final 24 on American Idol.

Rudy Cardenas, 28, Los Angeles
Tommy Daniels, 21, Troutdale, Ore.
Sundance Head, 27, Porter, Texas
Blake Lewis, 25, Bothell, Wash.
Sanjaya Malakar, 17, Lacey, Wash.
Jimmy McNeal, 23, Waxahachie, Texas
Chris Richardson, 22, Chesapeake, Va.
Brandon Rogers, 28, N. Hollywood, Calif.
Chris Sligh, 28, Greenville, SC

Alaina Alexander, 24, W. Hollywood, Calif.
Antonella Barba, 19, Point Pleasant, NJ
Baylie Brown, 16, Krum, Texas
Melinda Doolittle, 28, Brentwood, Tenn.
Tami Gosnell, 29, Lafayette, Colo.
Ebony Jointer, 23, Hacienda Heights, Calif.
Shyamali Malakar, 19, Lacey, Wash.
Haley Scarnato, 24, San Antonio
Jordin Sparks, 16, Glendale, Ariz.
Jory Steinberg, 25, Santa Monica, Calif.
Kia Thornton, 27, Englewood, NJ

You can also compare my list with EW's power rankings.

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Peekvid returns with a caveat

I see Peekvid is back online in a new Beta version, with a Very Special Message on the home page...

"Peekvid does not contain any content on its site, but is merely an index of available links on the Internet. Peekvid is committed to an industry solution that will provide a mechanism to compensate artists that create the work you enjoy watching. Peekvid would like to be part of the long term solution."

Sounds like they're hoping not only to avoid lawsuits from the show business industries, but also to make money off of any "long term solution." We'll stay tuned to see if they can make a buck off of the illegal copyright infringements by others. More than a few of my recent blog visitors have come looking for Peekvid info, especially since the site went down temporarily. Well, it's back up. Enjoy it while it lasts!

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K-Fed bagged out on Boston for a Grammy party

Now we know what "personal reasons" Kevin Federline had for pulling out at the last-minute on a Friday night appearance at Boston's Gypsy Bar. Instead of hosting an anti-Valentine's party, Federline chose to attend an exclusive pre-Grammy party that night featuring fellow Britney ex Justin Timberlake in Los Angeles.

Click here for a recap of that party (thanks to EW).

Click here for video (thanks to Team Kevin).

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Vegas, Orlando...or Reno?

Cardi's Furniture has run print and TV ads this week celebrating its 79th anniversary by offering customers trips for 2 to Las Vegas, Orlando or Reno. Um...who is picking Reno? Or does this say something about the types of people who shop at Cardi's? Just asking here. I've been to all three cities. So, Reno, really? No, really?

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Boston stunt boots Cartoon Network exec

This just in...Cartoon Network g.m. Jim Samples resigned today in the wake of last week's publicity stunt turned scare in Boston.


Just thought I'd put that out there, seeing as other guys keep lining up (Zsa Zsa's hubby? Really? Why?) to say they're the father of the late Anna Nicole Smith's potentially billionaire baby.

Why is there nonstop TV coverage on this? And why am I watching?

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Snickering over Snickers

Today's nominee for the most popular misused phrase uttered on TV newscasts across the country: "You'll never see this on television again."

What is this, perchance? The Snickers Super Bowl ad, which all of the aforementioned newscasts -- cable, network and local -- then showed over and over again. On television.

Related: Snickers; GLAAD condemns the ad; Snickers parent company pulls the ad

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For once, I agree with Tom Cruise

Couldn't any 2-year-old get diagnosed with bipolar disorder or attention-deficit disorder? Talk about a generation gap. This never happened in my day, and if it did, we didn't know about it. Apparently, pediatricians feel this it's OK now to hook toddlers early on the pharmaceuticals, as this tragic case on the South Shore demonstrates (the parents allegedly gave their daughter too much adult medication).


I watched and listened to most of yesterday's press conference announcing the Turner Broadcasting settlement over last week's Aqua Hunger mishap...and I'm still a bit confused about one part of the political talky talk -- Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's protestation proclamation: "The folks who second-guessed us because we did go out there and do our work, shame on them, because it's important that we did it."

Shame on them? The second-guessers? Shame on anyone who even remotely considers what happened Jan. 31 an overreaction? Sounds like something the Bush Administration would say about the war in Iraq. If you're not with us, you're against us kinda logic working in both cases. So...if Jan. 31 doesn't count as an overreaction, what does? Having your police officers shoot and kill innocent Red Sox fans such as Victoria Snelgrove? Ahem.

Turner Broadcasting settled for $2 million, or $600,000 less than the cost of a 30-second ad at the Super Bowl, and about $3.1 million less than what Menino's city paid out to settle with the Snelgroves.


Friday Fun Videos

No Groundhogs! Here are some timely videos for your Friday afternoon...

Zebro, an Emerson College comedy troupe, weighs in on Boston's false-alarm terror alert. Note: Includes profanity.

One of two videos showing the sign installation. This one has faster music, regular speed, in other cities, but with a Pac-Man remix.

The other video, this one showing the Boston sign artists/culprits, in action:

Hey, look! A video that's not about the Boston alert of Jan. 31! Meet Chris Coxen. Or rather, meet Chris Coxen's League of Characters, who'll be on display this Saturday at the BCA. Here is his trailer for the show:

Now, even more comedy! The Walsh Brothers, two of the funniest guys in Boston, are about to leave their Charlestown roots for Los Angeles. But not before a grand farewell, with a show Saturday night in New York City at the UCB, then two weekends at Jimmy Tingle's in Somerville. Here is their sales pitch, skinny dipping in Boston Harbor, with requisite profanity (duly noted for your attention).

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Behind Boston's "terror scare"

There's something more than a little screwy about yesterday's "terror scare" in Boston that paralyzed the city's government and roadways. And I'm not just talking about the scare itself. I'm looking at the media coverage. Yes. We live in Boston. Yes. We live in a post-9/11/2001 climate. Yes. The LED signs should've included some sort of credit signature or link to Turner Broadcasting and Aqua Teen Hunger Force (the Adult Swim cartoon makes its big-screen debut in March). And yes, Turner and its guerilla marketing forces should've obtained city permits to put up the signs -- which would've avoided the citywide panic altogether. All of these factors came into play yesterday.
But let's look at the media coverage. The Herald ran four stories today; the Globe, six. Boston TV stations have broken into regular programming throughout the past 24 hours for "breaking news" developments in the case. They all mention that the artists involved, as well as Turner, could be cited for a law prohibiting hoax devices that prompt panic.
Now then.
What makes the illuminated animated light board a hoax device, exactly?
What prompted the panic?
Why did it take weeks for this panic to ensue in Boston? Why hasn't it ensued in any of the other cities involved in this ad campaign?
Who looked at this and said, um, that's got to be a bomb?
Don't they know anyone under the age of 30?
A Globe sidebar today acknowledged the generation gap in marketing. Why aren't more people in the media asking these questions?

Adult Swim's apology last night:
Since the devices clearly were not bombs, some have looked at how the city responded, and wondered how the city would respond to a real threat.
Of course, we can look to Britain for just that, as the next story on most newscasts in the past day broadcast how authorities in the U.K. diffused an actual terrorist plan to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier. We're still talking about harmless Lite-Brites.
What will we be talking about next time? And how will we be talking about it?
On a related tangential note, how funny has it been to watch TV stations and papers blur out the extended middle finger on the signs?


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