Wonders of the Solar System

Those who basked in the wonders of “Planet Earth” and its follow-up “Life” would do well to delve into this frequently mind-blowing five hour series from the Beeb, hosted by physicist (and ex-rock star) Professor Brian Cox. “Wonders of the Solar System” is a triumph of both education and entertainment. On solar eclipses, Cox explains: “The sun is 400 times the diameter of the moon. And by sheer coincidence, it’s 400 times further away from the Earth. There’s something like between 145 and 167 moons in the solar system, depending on how you’re counting, but none of them produces such perfect eclipses as the Earth’s moon.” He then goes to India to partake in a breathtaking total solar eclipse in the presence of a massive, fervent crowd. Cox marvels, “That’s the solar system comin’ down and grabbin’ you by the throat!”

The youthful professor trots all over the globe, using locations and incidents on Earth such as volcanoes, the Grand Canyon, tornadoes and the Northern Lights to practically explain what the rest of the planets in our solar system are actually like. The series also mixes satellite photography and gorgeous CGI that give plenty of insight into our neighboring worlds. When it really comes down to it, though, it’s Cox’s enthusiasm, intelligence, and unexpected bursts of humor that give “Wonders of the Solar System” an edge over other, similar documentary series. It’s a pleasure to have this man as a living, breathing guide as opposed to an unseen narrator. The only area where the series comes up a little short is in the aforementioned CGI department, as a fair amount of it manages to be recycled perhaps a few too many times. There are two extra programs (presented in SD) entitled “What on Earth is Wrong with Gravity?” and “Do You Know What Time It Is?,” which brings the total running time of the set up to almost seven hours. While watching this material, I kept thinking, “If I’d been able to see this kind of stuff in high school, I probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep in science class.”

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 5

Mercifully, there were no panels to attend on Day 5 of the TCA Press Tour, thereby allowing me a brief chance to breathe…and, more importantly, to spend some time with my lovely wife Jenn, who arrived from Virginia in the wee hours of Day 4. Although I ducked out to attend the TCA business meeting that morning, I passed on a chance to visit the set of “Big Brother” in order for Jenn and I to have lunch at the South Beverly Grill with my friend Dileep Rao, who I knew way back when he was just a member of the Trashcan Sinatras mailing list. Now, of course, he’s a big shot movie actor who can’t even finish his lunch without having someone come up and say, “I loved you in ‘Inception.'” Either way, it was still good to see him again.

After that, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the TCA Awards, an evening which always proves to be one of the most enjoyable evenings of the tour. It’s the opportunity for the members of the organization to pay tribute to our favorite programs and performances of the previous year, and it’s also a chance for us to interact with the individuals responsible, but we do so with our tape recorders put away for the evening. There’s no red carpet. There’s no video document of the proceedings. It’s just us, the stars, and the night…or does that sound too pretentious? Yeah, it probably does, especially when you’re talking about a night that’s hosted by Dax Shepherd.

Given that the first two TCA Awards ceremonies that I attended were hosted by John Oliver (“The Daily Show”) and the Smothers Brothers, respectively, you’d think that Dax Shepherd would feel like a step down…but then you factor in how awful Chelsea Handler was as last year’s host, and darned if Dax doesn’t seem like a decent choice. Indeed, he proved to be extremely funny, much funnier than I think a lot of us were expecting him to be. He kicked things off by pretending he was addressing a group of HerbalLife salespeople, claimed that he was only hosting because Dog the Bounty Hunter dropped out, then acknowledged he was a little hurt by the fact that just about every review of “Parenthood” that mentioned his performance invariably began with some semblance of the phrase, “You’re never going to believe this, but he’s actually pretty good.” There was also a funny story about how he’s a god at CostCo, thanks to having co-starred in “Employee of the Month” with Dane Cook, and he did a spot-on impression of Owen Wilson calling his brother Luke and mocking him for his telephone commercials. Really, the only disappointing thing about Dax’s appearance was that I didn’t realize he’d brought his fiancee, Kristen Bell, until after she’d already gone. DAMN!

From there, we entered the awards portion of the evening.

PROGRAM OF THE YEAR: “Glee” (FOX)
OUTSTANDING NEW PROGRAM: “Glee” (FOX).
INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY: Jane Lynch, “Glee” (FOX).

Alas, Jane Lynch was suffering from laryngitis and was unable to attend, but Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan accepted the award in her stead, offering as solace a list of four things we’ll hear Sue Sylvester say in Season 2.

4. “A female football coach is like a male nurse, Will: it’s a sin against nature.”
3. “I secretly hope you’re in the middle of a midlife crisis, William, as that means you’re halfway to an early death, affording me a blissful demented convalescence spent peeing on your grave.”
2. “Don’t go soft on me, Will. I realize you’re mourning the loss of that bony little redhead you’re in love with, and I understand. It’s not just a loss for you. As she appears to be the link between early hominids and man, it’s also a loss for science.”
1. “Should’ve taken the poop cookies, Will.”

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Ausiello keeps track of the bubble shows

EW.com’s Michael Ausiello is tuned into the world of television, and his information can usually be trusted. He has an article devoted to the current status of all the shows (renewed, cancelled, on the bubble, etc.) and suggests that readers bookmark it. Here are his thoughts on a few of the shows currently on the bubble.

Scrubs: Prospects brightening.
The Unusuals: A long shot.
Eleventh Hour: Could go either way. Now a long shot. Hearing the crew is looking for other work.
The Unit: A long shot. Now hearing it’s a goner.
Dollhouse: Could go either way. Now hearing it’s a long shot.
Fringe: Sure thing.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: A long shot.
Chuck: Could go either way.
Life: A long shot. Now hearing it’s a goner.
Medium: Safe bet.
My Name is Earl: Could go either way. Fox may rescue it if NBC passes.
Southland: Sure thing.
Privileged: Prospects brightening.
Reaper: It’s a goner.

I’m bummed to hear that the news on “The Unit” isn’t getting better. CBS invited Shawn Ryan to pitch story ideas for another season, and the show has been pretty great the last two years. It’s good to see that “Fringe” is considered a sure thing — I hadn’t heard much about how well it was doing ratings-wise this season. “Southland” continues to get good reviews. I don’t know that the world needs another cop show. My tastes are pretty particular after watching great shows like “NYPD Blue,” “The Shield” and “The Wire,” so I haven’t watched it, but if I keep hearing good things, I may dive in this summer when there isn’t much else on.

If you don’t see your favorite show on this list, be sure to check this link for the latest info. I’d like to see Ausiello tackle some of the basic and pay cable shows on FX, TNT, TBS, USA, HBO and Showtime, but this page only covers the major networks.

  

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Greetings to the New Show: “The Mentalist”

I believe I put this out there in another post, but I think it bears repeating: “The Mentalist” is the new series that my mother-in-law is the most excited about. I can appreciate where she’s coming from. I’m pretty excited about it, too. Mind you, my reasons are different than hers – I love the concept, she thinks the show’s star, Simon Baker, is hot (and has apparently felt this way since he starred in “The Guardian”) – but, still, it means that I can count on her getting excited when I get an advance screener of any future episodes of the series.

In “The Mentalist,” Baker plays the title character. His name is Patrick Jane, and he’s an independent consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) who has a remarkable track record for solving serious crimes by using his razor sharp skills of observation…not that that’s a direct quote from the CBS press release or anything. Jane is a guy who knows how profound his abilities are, and it shows in his every word and deed when he’s on a case.

We get an example of his trademark confidence (or possibly hubris) in the first minutes of the first episode as we watch him walk into the home of a murder victim, brew a pot of tea, and make himself a sandwich. It isn’t until the kettle whistles that the victim’s mother even knows he’s there, but he quickly offers her a cuppa and, after demonstrating his powers of observation, says with a sly smile, “I used to make a good living pretending to be a psychic. I tell you this because I want you to understand that there’s no point in hiding things from me.” After a brief conversation with the missus, he then greets the child’s father by identifying himself as being with the police, adding with no further preface, “Did you murder your daughter?”

I won’t tell you how the rest of the scene plays out, but it’s a testament to Baker’s charisma that his last line – “Honestly, it’s not as bad as it looks” – earns a laugh.

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