Sunday, March 29, 2009

TV: Crime and Intent

Criminal Intent is the smartest of the franchise, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and it's the one we always avoided reviewing -- mainly due to knowing Vincent but also due to the fact that it's really not the eye sore that the rest of the franchise is. And now that we zoom in on it, we can hear someone cry, "It's not even on broadcast TV anymore!"


This Wednesday, it returns to NBC, taking the first hour of prime time -- from the disaster that is The Chopping Block which replaced the disaster that was Knight Rider. As if to celebrate (or at least warm up the audience, prime the pump), NBC broadcast "Legacy" last night -- a Betty Kaplan directed episode which originally aired last August.

Calling Criminal Intent the best of the franchise, admittedly, isn't saying a great deal. Whether it's the original show, Special Victims Unit, the blink-and-you-missed 'em Conviction and Trial by Jury, they all practice the ripped-from-the-headlines 'writing' and, for the rest, that means no writing at all. They change the names (and often the genders) of some criminal incidents in the paper and film them. They're not interested in depth, they're not interested in entertaining. The goal of the franchise is nothing more than to churn another episode out of the meat grinder and serve it up before the audience grasps how badly it tastes.

The difference with Criminal Intent is that it actually shows some taste. It has actual scripts and the actors take those and add to and improve on. You're never, for example, watching Kathyrn Erbe (Eames) and noting how out of the scene she is. Instead, she's always fully in character. She's a detective, her partner is Goran, and the two of them attempt to solve crimes. Yes, that probably is too complex for the franchise considering the other shows all rest on the assumption of guilt from the first minute. But Criminal Intent is interested in examining the crime, narrowing down the suspects and attempting to figure out the intent behind it.

The intent is something which had us baffled all last week. It started on Sunday with CBS' 60 Minutes where Steve Kroft interviewed the starlet-in-chief Barack Obama. Who knew an economy in crisis could produce the giggles in the president of the United States?

But before that moment took place, we caught Barack again telling the same unflattering story on his daughters. As he did, we talked about how he had jazzed it up since the last telling, how he was like a starlet constantly 'improving' the story as she made the talk show rounds. And then we stared at each other for several seconds of silence before picking up the phone and calling friends working on NBC's Tonight Show.

See, we were offended by Barack's disgusting effort to get a cheap laugh at the expense of special-needs children the week before. And we heard a hundred and one pathetic excuses for why he did it and we stood firm that it was disgusting. The reason we knew it was disgusting is because nothing 'just happens' on TV. And we'd talked about that, talked over that point, and never really explored it.

The people sitting down opposite from Jay Leno or David Letterman or anyone, what you're watching isn't a 'cold interview.' It's not happening for the 'first time.' Prior to that, a staffer is on the phone with the celebrity and doing a pre-interview.

The pre-interview allows topics to be narrowed down so you don't end up with the infamous interview Joan Rivers had on the early eighties with a prick of an actor who answered every question with 'uh-huh' or 'no' and nothing else. That Tonight Show interview is infamous. Pre-interviews avoid that. The staff finds out what stories really are interesting -- not every story is -- and also finds subject areas that the writers of the show can work on jokes for. For example, Julie Andrews is heavily into a new flower in her garden and about to go on Letterman, the writers can prepare some gardening jokes.

Repeating, nothing on TV 'just happens.'

And as we confirmed last Sunday, the White House did participate in a pre-interview. Not Barack himself (which didn't surprise us). And the White House asked that Barack's bowling be a topic. The White House requested that.

Barack's little ad-lib? As calls to friends in the administration revealed, there was a whole list of 'ad-libs' for him to choose. Barack went with the Special Olympics "joke."

Now we know that the Cult of St. Barack is made up of a bunch of mental midgets, but there's also such a thing as the real press, the working press. And how the hell they avoided doing the basic work that we did last Sunday night is beyond us.

But, for the record, the White House participated in a pre-interview where various ideas were pitched. The White House requested that Barack's bowling be included as a topic. The White House prepared several ad-libs for Barack to go with.

What you saw two Thursdays ago on NBC was the closest to scripted The Tonight Show can come. And those who rushed to give the Christ-child a pass on his offensive remarks need to grasp that. They might try also noting a point Dan Froomkin (Washington Post) made last week who declared, "The best explanation I've seen for why Obama wants to get every word just right, by the way, was in a profile of Obama speechwriter John Favreau, by Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune: 'I've never worked for a politician who values words as much as the president does,' Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said. 'The speechwriter is an unusually important person in the operation. [Obama's] willingness to entrust his words to others is limited.'"

Yes, Barack does value words and that's how he ended up repeating the same stale (and crafted) 'humanizing' stories on 60 Minutes which he'd already told Leno.

We'd spent so much time working the phones to find out about (and confirm) the details of the pre-interviews, that we'd missed the rest of the 60 Minutes interview (video at the following links: here for part one of transcript and here for part two of transcript). As a result, we only heard about Barack's giggles on Monday when we were speaking at a college and students kept bringing it up. Unlike the press, the students had multiple examples. For example, they found these remarks by Barack, about the American people, offensive:

People don't resent folks getting rich. And they don't mind people getting bonuses for doing a good job. They certainly don't understand getting bonuses for doing a bad job. And they don't understand this concept of retention bonuses when, from their perspective, the retention bonus is not losing your job. (CHUCKLE) And so, I think the anger is healthy if it's channeled.

It's funny to him that, for the working class, a "retention bonus is not losing your job"? He finds that funny? Maybe American will have the opportunity to laugh at his lack of a 'retention bonus' come 2012?

Barack's interview was a disaster as he laughed throughout and giggled like a ninny. In one section, he would laugh about spending money "to fix the banks," laugh that the American people are impatient with his response to the crisis, laugh that "the only thing less popular than putting money into banks is putting money into the auto industry," and more. The economy's not a laughing matter to most people and it was not reassuring to them to see the president of the United States yucking it up on a news program. It was so bad that the following exchange took place:

KROFT: You're sitting here. And you're-- you are laughing. You are laughing about some of these problems. What is-- I-- are people gonna look at this and say, "I mean, he's sitting there just making jokes about money--" How do you deal with-- I mean, wh-- explain the-- the--

OBAMA: Well--

KROFT: --the mood and your laughter.

OBAMA: Yeah, I mean, there's gotta be--

KROFT: Are you punch drunk?

OBAMA: No, no. There's gotta be a little gallows humor to (LAUGHS) get you through the day.

Well whatever gets you through the night, Pretty Boy.

It was a disaster and even with White House friends explaining the intent of the interview (a casual setting to address the economy), we still couldn't see it.

Amazingly, Barack never spoke of Iraq during his 60 Minutes interview except, in a single sentence, to joke about how a year ago, he assumed this would be the big challenge the president would be facing today. (The lack of pressure on Barack to end the illegal war allows him to turn Iraq into a joke.)

Tuesday night, the starlet-in-chief needed more attention and more ego feeding. So he appeared on prime time to discuss . . . Policy wise, nothing. He had nothing to say or offer. He also had nothing to say about Iraq and this got attention.

Steve Padilla (Los Angeles Times) manages to do right from the top: "In all, he fielded questions from 13 reporters. It's worth noting some of the things that did not come up during the Q & A with the press.Iraq, for one. Never came up. Isn't there a war going on?" Also noting the silence were Michael D. Shear and Scott Wilson (Washington Post), "During the 55-minute news conference, Obama faced no questions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, or terrorism. Instead, the president focused consistently on his administration's efforts to boost the economy, presenting his first budget proposal as the critical and most far-reaching step in that process." It was also caught during The New York Times' live blogging:

Helene Cooper 9:01 p.m. I'm still slackjawed over the shocking lack of national security issues raised. This is a new world we're living in, after seven years of Al Qaeda, Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard to imagine a Bush press conference focusing so singularly on the economy, but then, these are clearly different times.

Jeff Zeleny 9:00 p.m. The second prime-time press conference for Mr. Obama is in the books. Thirteen questions, but not one about Iraq or Afghanistan. That would have been impossible to imagine during his presidential campaign. So what's the headline? "Hang on Americans, We’ll Get Through This."

Barack's gotten a hell of a lot of TV time lately and it's worth noting that he only raises Iraq when he needs a punchline.

After utilizing the teleprompters for his nothing-new speech, Barack declared, "With that, let me take some questions. And I've got a list here. Let's start off with Jennifer Loven, AP." And, oh, did he have a list. Howard Kurtz (Washington Post) would explain the next morning, "As president, he has broken with precedent by having his press office notify correspondents that they will be called on at upcoming news conferences."

After the silence on Iraq, the most telling moment for us fell under the pattern of what we've dubbed "Barack Bitchery." CNN's Ed Henry declared, "You spoke again at the top about your anger about AIG. You've been saying that for days now. But why is it that it seems Andrew Cuomo seems to be in New York getting more actual action on it? And when you and Secretary [Timothy] Geithner first learned about this 10 days, two weeks ago, you didn't go public immediately with that outrage. You waited a few days. And then when -- you went public after you realized Secretary Geithner really had no legal avenue to stop it. And, more broadly, I just want to follow up on Chip [Reid, MSNBC] and Jake [Tapper, ABC]. You've been very critical of President Bush doubling the national debt. And, to be fair, it's not just Republicans hitting you. Democrat Kent Conrad, as you know, said, quote, 'When I look at this budget, I see the debt doubling again.' You keep saying that you've inherited a big fiscal mess. Do you worry, though, that your daughters, not to mention the next president, will be inheriting an even bigger fiscal mess if the spending goes out of control?"

Joan Collins, at her Alexis Carrington finest, couldn't have intoned more witheringly Barack's opening line, "Of course I do, Ed, which is why we're doing everything we can to reduce that deficit." He then babbled on, echoed Bully Boy Bush by explaining it's-hard-work ("This is hard") and danced around the question completely. This led Ed Henry to repeat it, "But on AIG, why did you wait -- why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general's office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, 'Look, we're outraged.' Why did it take so long?"

We're not sure what was more distressing, the bitchy line Barack tossed off next or the fact that the press corps laughed at it? Barack snarled, "It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." Again, file it under "Barack Bitchery." It takes a real social climber (which is what Barack was born and what he hails from) to think they can get away with insulting a state's Attorney General, let alone a member of their own party, at a press conference. It takes a real disgrace to do so from the office of the president.

After eight-years of a frat boy occupying the White House, we needed a grown up. Instead we got a catty boy. If me-ow and cat claw gestures qualify for leadership, Barack's your fellow. And that seems to be the intended message of his press conference.

The intent of many Americans was just to avoid Barack. Steve Gorman, Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney (Reuters) report, "Taking to the airwaves again to pitch his economic plan, President Barack Obama drew 40 million viewers for his latest news conference, down some 9 million from his first prime-time press encounter last month." Some attempted to spin it as though 31 million was impressive. First off, he's still not gotten the number of viewers Bill Clinton did in his first year in office. Second of all, Barack's not on one network. He pre-empted the entire spectrum except for the CW (and MyTV, if anyone actually watches that). He was carried live on PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox (entertainment). He was carried live on CNN, MSNBC and Fox "News." He was carried live on CSPAN. There was no easy way to escape him, but millions of Americans made the effort. If you're among the tiny number who accidentally missed the press conference, click here for transcript and video.

Thursday, Barack showed up desperate for more publicity doing a webchat. At what point does he turn up on the Home Shopping Network?

Barack's supposedly a 'star' -- people used to say 'rock star' but few living rock artists ever qualify as an actual star. First thing any actual star learns is the danger of over exposure. Were Barack a real star, Team Obama would have been rationing him long ago. Instead they send him out to all but the opening of a hot dog stand (this morning, he'll show up on CBS' Face The Nation). Star power, as a Robert Redford or Michelle Pfeiffer or Debra Winger could tell you, is as much about saying "no" as it is about saying "yes." The rule is always, paraphrasing Redford here, "They want what they can't have." When they can have you, when they can have you for coffee, lunch, dinner and late night snack, they don't want you. When you've become an installed fixture in their homes, not unlike a toilet, you've lowered your cachet and your image.

In the primaries, one thing became obvious, the more people saw Barack, the less they liked him. That's one reason so many rallied around Hillary as the primaries continued. The more they saw of mythic Barack, the more they grasped how there was no 'there' there. But Team Obama couldn't learn that lesson. That's partly because, having pulled off one of the biggest cons in campaign history, they think the American people are dupes. But it's also because they've begun to believe their own hype. That's always a danger. And Barack's on the verge of entering the terminal phase of celebrity: Where one refers to one's self repeatedly in the third person. (On 60 Minutes, he'd already begun referring to himself in the second person.) Though Barack and Team Obama are enchanted with the myth they've created, the rest of America is increasingly less so.

Every recent attempt of the Christ-child to walk on air waves furthers the notion that there is nothing special about Barack. Overexposure will tend to do that.

Of course, that was always the reality about Barack. He was the most ordinary and craven of politicians, he had nothing to show for his life except having been president of the Harvard Law Review, two decades prior. He'd never accomplished anything and he'd never done any heavy lifting. He was a truly non-remarkable man.

But Team Obama cast him as "the other" (while insisting opponents were doing that) and created a myth of how he was better than us and smarter than us and more wonderful than us. And Barack would save us.

What they created was a Cult leader. And what you saw was how many weak minds there were. Now it's not at all surprising when Americans move like lemmings to whatever the current craze is or whatever's considered 'hot' at whatever moment. What was surprising was how many allegedly 'educated' and 'wise' 'leaders' revealed themselves to be weak minded and in desperate need of a father figure.

It's led to non-stop embarrassments and three took place Friday. First up, Friday morning began with Barack before the cameras again. Talking about Afghanistan. A subject he'd ignored in his Tuesday night press conference. Suddenly, he was interested. He was interested, if not interesting.

And he babbled on and sketched out his "Same Way To Quagmire" rehash. But that's a topic for another article. We'll just note that his intent was very clear here: More death and destruction.

And Feminist Majority Foundation's Ellie Smeal and Dr. Suzy Samar were very clear that they'd hauled out their vinyl copies of Tapestry, put 'em on the turntable and were eager to sing along with Carole King: Where you lead . . . I will follow . . . Anywhere that you tell me to . . .

Has a more pathetic response ever been offered in the (faux) name of feminism? [If you're late to the party, you can check out "Afghanistan and Iraq," "AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ," "Roundtable Friday," "roundtable," "Roundtable," "Roundtable in the Kitchen," "Roundtable on Iraq and Afghanistan," "Roundtabling Afghanistan and Iraq," "Roundtable Friday," "Roundtable Afghanistan and Iraq," "Roundtable" and "Roundtable."]

But Friday wasn't over and the America that had already endured Barack stating 'I am the third term of George W. Bush' and Girls Say Yes To Boys Who Wag Their Cocks Ellie Smeal still had to endure Dana Carvey.

Failed non-star Dana Carvey defines truly untalented Saturday Night Live alumni. As a result, America rarely has to endure him on the TV. But there was he Friday night on The Tonight Show.

At one point, as he praised Barack and mocked Ahnuld, he was rolling around on the floor and declared, "I took that a little far." Jay Leno chose to ignore it and return to the still unanswered question about Carvery's early (failed) dramatic roles. But the reality was that Dana Carevey "took that a little far" way before then.

In fact, we'd say NBC owes an apology to America for broadcasting Carvey's hate speech on what is, after all, supposed to be an entertainment program.

AIG was brought up by Carvey but he's not smart enough to do a riff on them. He's not smart at all which is why he turned the villain into US House Rep Barney Frank.

As he did his little act, we kept asking, "Is he intentionally lisping?" When he started having Barney Frank use Sylvester the cat's catch phrase ("suffering succotash!") we knew he was lisping intentionally. He followed that by tossing his (limp wristed) hands around and stroking himself in mincing gestures. But he really 'went for the gold' when he hopped to the floor and stuck his ass in the air indicating someone should 'rear end' him. It was disgusting, it was homophobic and it didn't belong on the entertainment program that spent years refusing to let a guest call out the Iraq War (when guests did early on, that was edited out and the excuse was "we're an entertainment program" -- opposing war not allowed; homophobia embraced).

For those who don't know, Barney Frank is openly gay. What does his being gay have to do with AIG? Not a damn thing but Dana Carvey's as unintelligent as he is unfunny. Presented with the financial scandal, he naturally decided the 'way to go' was to serve up homophobia. In his sick mind, it made sense to turn it all into a blast of homophobia -- as if the LGBT community is responsible for the economic meltdown?

The moment should never have been broadcast. The week before Jay Leno yucked it up as the disabled/challenged community was mocked. He was lapping up Dana Carvey's homophobia routine Friday. NBC loves to make those little PSAs where various of the network's performers talk about the need for tolerance and dignity. But maybe those PSA wouldn't be needed if the network could make it clear that homophobia wasn't funny and wasn't worth airing on an entertainment program?

The intent there? Dana wasn't funny. Seeing an old and flabby man bounce around like they're on a cocaine high while they spit out slurs is never funny. We couldn't even grasp the intent of booking a failed, has-been like Dana Carvey to begin with.

Maybe Eames and Goren could make sense of it? Goren is, of course, played by Vincent D'Onofrio, one of the finest actors in any medium and someone who has upped the bar on television just by appearing.

While Criminal Intent is the best of the Law & Orders, it's still part of them and, as such, has the same dialogue problems. Eames and Goren usually have better dialogue but the minor characters? An educated young woman at an expensive prep school declares, "You already Guantanamoed my locker." Really? The police rifled through her locker. That really doesn't fit with Guantanamo's image of 'detainees' (prisoners), now does it?

Criminal Intent works as a "Who Done What?" Not a "Who Done It?" because red herrings aren't just dismissed with, they're flogged. And bit by bit, in a circular logic manner, Eames and Goran will zoom in on the suspect. The audience sometimes beats them there. For example, in "Legacy," when John Shea shows up in a throw away scene, we'd bet most viewers knew he was either the criminal or connected to it in the same way if for no other reason than suspicion based upon guest star stature.

So as the episode worked it's way to a close, as they'd dismissed with student Tessa as a suspect and discovered that her teacher mother Anna was not a suspect but, in fact, the target and that the suspect "Joe" never even existed it was time, Goran explained, to go "line fishing."

Goran: Whoever's behind Joe is obsessed with taking Anna down. The thought that he failed . . . Maybe he'd react?

And he does, but first they have to go through other suspects. If Law & Order shows are usually about the procedure, Criminal Intent is about the journey. And, in the best news of all, Chris North is no longer tagging along. The way the show works is there are Eames and Goran episodes one week and then episodes with another detective team the next. Chris North's weighed the show down with his mediocre acting and uninspiring presence. He's out, Jeff Goldblum's in. That should make for a much more pleasurable journey.

In sixty minutes time, Criminal Intent manages to figure out all the motives and solve the crime. Though they use circular logic and deduction, after it's all laid out, the events are fairly liniear and plain. That's how you know it's TV. In the real world, there are a lot more angles. For example, Barack was backed by Wall Street, yes, and they're benefitting big time. However, he was also backed by the nuclear industry and, with all the drama over the economic crisis, few have noted how much prep work for new plants that sector is currently conducting -- which includes lower level administrative meetings.
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