Monday, March 31, 2008

Sigh...

Some may think posting a photo as my last entry of the month-long blogging event is a cop-out, but I think this photo is the perfect way to end the month. A full article will be forthcoming in a couple of days, but in the meantime, enjoy!

Then (1998)

Now (2008)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Longest (REAL) Relationship I've Ever Had...


Happy 1st Anniversary to Me & Madison!!!

A year ago today, I wandered into Pet Love in the Beverly Center (please don’t judge; those dogs need good homes, too!) and spied a tiny fluffball of white and black fur seeming to run straight at me in his glass prison. I admit I had my reservations at first (I wanted a girl dog), but I saw this other woman eyeing him and knew I wanted dibs. When the high school kid who was working in the store that day brought the little guy to me in the little play area, he started chewing on everything and anything and seemed to think my friend Jamie would be his mama… but I knew I loved him anyway. Standing at the register, where I learned the “SALE: Shih Tzu” sign on the cage in which he had been actually referred to the little white puppy in the back, I knew he was worth any amount I had to pay. Sometimes the best things in life are far from free. And when he rested his head on my chest in the elevator down to the parking lot, drifting off to sleep, that was it; he had me: Madison.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reliving Our Youth...

Though spring may have barely sprung in some parts of the country, schoolchildren everywhere already have the summer sun in their sight-line, ready to toss aside their textbooks and dioramas and Number 2 pencils for the dewy grass and sparkling lakes that only a summer camp can provide. Haven’t already picked the one that’s right for you yet or just want to get a jump start on the seasonal spirit? I say it's never too early to check out some summer entertainment... man, I wish I still got summers!

Judd Apatow’s first foray into film was with the 1995 childhood classic Heavyweights, so it should be no surprise that has taken the "Best Film About Fat Camp" ribbon. Starring such comedic gems as Ben Stiller, Tim Blake Nelson, Allen Covert, and a young Kenan Thompson, Heavyweights centered on a group of overweight kids who get shipped off every summer by their fitness-crazed parents only to learn that this year the camp has been purchased by a weight loss entrepreneur who wants to use the camp as his own personal infomercial. Chaos-- along with some binge eating, junk food fighting, and makeshift obstacle courses-- of course, ensues.

For those of you who were theatre nerds, Todd Graff’s 2003 film festival hit Camp takes the "Best Drama (Camp)" ribbon and might just prove to be the right fit. Following a few teenage actor/singer/dancer hybrids through a summer of showcases, audiences are given a glimpse at the fickleness, and yes, even the friendship that comes out of such intense training and such close quarters.

Sometimes camp activities seem kind of lackluster; for the hours of fun lanyards never failed to provide, they were really just sharp cords of plastic. That doesn’t mean the counselors didn’t mean well, but perhaps—like in this next case—they were just too distracted with their personal lives to realize the free-for-all their organization had become. 1995’s The Babysitters Club featured a Before They Were Stars cornucopia (Rachel Leigh Cook, Bre Blair, Marla Sokoloff, Kyla Pratt, Scarlett Pomers, and even Schuyler Fisk) of characters who all had a million things going on besides the day camp they ran out of their backyard. Claudia had to pass her summer science course; Stacy fell for a much older boy; Dawn had to appease her next-door neighbor and fend off the geeky kid; and Kristy’s dad came back to town—a secret she tried to keep from her close friends and ended up bringing down the whole camp.

Though it received mostly negative reviews from critics who “just don’t understand” back during its 2001 release, Wet Hot American Summer has become the perfect cult comedy classic for those who really are "Too Old To Be At Camp and Just Want To Sleep Around." Set in the early eighties and compiled of improv comics like Janeane Garafalo, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, and members of The State, Wet Hot American Summer is a very specific kind of humor (read: lots of non-sequiturs) centered on one very specific, and very assumed-to-be-universal problem: getting the girl before camp comes to an end.

Along similar lines is the Kristy McNichol/Tatum O’Neal cult classic Little Darlings about two friends who make a pact to lose their virginity during their time at camp. Just chaste enough (and just preachy enough in parts) for the 1980 censors, it’s a film that is nostalgic for adults but even suitable for tweens today. 1993’s Indian Summer, on the other hand, is one for the older audience, as thirty-something ex-campers reunite on the grounds at which they first met over a dozen years earlier. They reminisce, romance, and reassess the route their lives have taken.

1961’s The Parent Trap and 1995’s “update” It Takes Two are quintessential "Best Camp Gone Wrong" moments with both movies featuring a group of counselors and other administrative personnel who don’t seem to realize they have mixed up their campers. However the award for "Camp Gone Severely Wrong" has to go to The Burning (1981; a group of pranksters decides to target the creepy caretaker, only he is back at camp to wreak his own havoc) and its seeming-update Camp Slaughter (2005; stranded motorists stumble across a camp cursed to relive the same 1981 day over and over). The latter are only good in the so-bad-they-have-their-moments way and are not to be viewed by the squeamish, impressionable, or purveyors of taste, I might add.

Finally, for those of you who never felt you fit into one “specialty” camp or another or just longed to break free of parents and responsibility for the whole summer, Camp Nowhere is the absolute end-all-be-all must of this list. Starring Christopher Lloyd, Jonathan Jackson, Andrew Keegan, and Marnette (then Marnie) Patterson, it was a hit amongst the tween crowd in its 1994 release but has withstood the test of time as future generations, too, dream of conning their parents out of a couple thousand dollars and escaping to a lakefront cabin to host bonfires, play with fireworks, and engage in mud-wrestling competitions and pie-eating contests. Camp Nowhere is a tale about the strong friendships formed during a summer away, if nothing else, as kids from all social cliques mingled together and worked toward the one common goal of outsmarting their parents (and government authorities) by showing off four fake camps, back-to-back, in a movie climax that made countless adults jealous of the level of potential those kids inherently possessed.

And just so I don't get a bunch of angry comments/emails: yes, I'm aware I skipped over Meatballs, and yes, I realize it's a travesty, but yes, it was intentional, and no, I don't intend to rectify it. As if the three subsequent crappy sequels weren't enough, the studio suits have now decided to bastardize the original even further be remaking it. So I'm boycotting in the hopes that they think its fallen off our radar and therefore doesn't warrant a remake so then they will leave the original good one alone! In the words/voice of Chris Crocker: "Leave Meatballs alone!" But I digress.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Oh, Those Magical Words...

Her toe taps impatiently on the faux wood floor, clicking each time it hits. The wire that runs from her ear to her front pocket, where it disappears into a small black leather pouch, flaps with the movement. She glances at her watch and then cranes her neck around the big beefy man in front of her-- a man who turns and glares at her up and down for tapping her foot only to turn his snarl into a brief smile. She rolls her eyes and stops momentarily just to glare back before resuming her nervous behavior. She checks her watch again compulsively; she has a meeting for which she is about to be late, and she doesn’t understand what could be taking so long; sure there’s only one pimply faced college kid working the complex, robotic machines this morning, but the custom, foamy orders don’t even sound particularly convoluted today. The man in front of her steps forward to retrieve his own order, and she sighs: finally.

A few minutes later, she struggles to push open the coffee shop door, juggling her wallet, her cell phone, her office key card, and her freshly brewed coffee. Clearly she is too distracted to notice the greasy haired munchkin of a man approach, lower his sunglasses on his nose, and look her over with a smirk on his face.

“Excuse me; are the pastries in there any good?”

Startled, she looks up and straight into the just-bleached teeth of the smiling man, who points behind her. She almost does a double take; what is he, new? Everyone knows if you want fresh pastries—especially on this side of town—there’s an amazing bakery a few blocks down.

She doesn’t say as much, though; she just tells him some of them are with a tense return smile. She hastily stuffs her wallet into her purse and turns to press the pedestrian button on the corner.

“Are you Spanish?”

The little red hand still blinks tauntingly, so she sighs and just shakes her head no, busying herself with her key card and counting down the seconds until the light changes.

“Really? You look Mexican,” he doesn’t get the hint.

“I’m Italian.” She sucks in a breath after she admits that; she doesn’t know why she’s humoring this guy. She’s usually not that nice. She doesn’t believe in humoring someone or placating them in any way. Maybe it's the New Yorker in her, but she always tells it like it is, no matter how blunt or insensitive it may come off. She doesn’t like there to be any surprises.

“Well, same difference, though, right?”

She turns to him, and his grin is wide. A piece of his greasy hair blows on his forehead, but he doesn’t move to wipe it away with a pudgy, seemingly swollen hand. He stands as tall as her chin, and she’s wearing heels; he really is a munchkin of a man without being at-all cute. She contemplates just making a run for it, but with her luck, there’d be a police officer around the corner, and he’d get her for jaywalking—making her extremely late and giving this guy another good five minutes or so while the ticket was written up where he could chat her up. She stops momentarily to ponder what it is about older (read: George Clooney’s age without the looks or talent or charm of George Clooney) gentlemen in Los Angeles that they automatically assume a younger girl must have a daddy complex and therefore it is not creepy to hit on her. She remembers the time she and her father visited San Diego, and the waiter at their hotel thought they were a couple. She had been sixteen. Granted, they were yelling at each other pretty loudly…

Anyway, that little break in conversation must have been all he needed to muster up another ounce of courage or strength, and without waiting for her to reply (or taking her silence as a reply—a negative one), he asked: “So, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

She doesn’t know why such a simple question angers her, but it does. She doesn’t know if it’s because she literally doesn’t have time for this or if it’s because it’s just typical. Sure, she’ll get the occasional nod-and-smile from guys in line at coffee shops, or guys that hold a door open for her at coffee shops, or even the guy behind the counter at coffee shops, but usually they keep their distance, and that’s how she likes it. She’s not one of those people who will sit with a book or her laptop for hours sipping the same lukewarm java, secretly pining for someone to come over and strike up a conversation. If she was, she’d expect this kind of behavior, but she thinks she gives off the aura of someone who doesn’t have time for that (at least she tries to), and it annoys her when guys don’t get the hint. Hell, she was walking her dog in Malibu over the weekend, and a very cute restaurant manager tried to engage her in conversation, but she couldn't even stop to talk to him because she was on a very tight schedule. She has had a very busy week...

So now that this guy thinks he has something in common with her because they both drink coffee, should that automatically mean they’ve bonded? Should she swoon? Should she tell him he’s so original and no one’s ever propositioned her in such a way before? Should she pretend he can't see the coffee she has already purchased, or does he expect her to toss it out and start all over with one for which he will pay?

Regardless, she has never been more thankful than when the light finally turns, and although she holds a now slightly watery cup in her hands, she just retorts: “I don’t drink coffee,” in what she hopes is as icy a manner as the aforementioned drink. Is there mocking in her tone? Probably. Is it the coy, jokey mocking to which she’s come to expect from such words? Definitely not. But it gets the job done, and she is able to power-walk across the street and safely into her building with one swipe of her key card.

She knows; she’s a bitch ;)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

When Did I Start To Care About Math?...

One of the lead characters in the Fame-homage independent musical Camp reveals mid-way through the film that he is not the so-called Golden Boy everyone assumes him to be; he has a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in which he counts the letters whenever someone else speaks. Instead of focusing on what the person is saying, he adds the numbers in each word and then each sentence continuously until he gets to a prime number. Then he starts all over again. There is no logic to a disease like that; it’s just a switch in the brain that is flicked on when it really shouldn’t be in order to allow the person to function normally. But the more I thought about his predicament, the more I realized that his obsession with numbers is not nearly as uncommon as it at first seemed. In fact, our society is set up in that way: we are defined by the numbers in our lives.

When I was in sixth grade, my Social Studies teacher gave me an 88% on my first quarter report card. When my mother went up to Parent-Teacher conferences to talk with him about why, he could only offer that he knew I was smart but wanted to motivate me to work a little harder. All of my friends received something in the mid-ninety range. When my mother returned home and repeated what he said, I just shrugged it off because I thought an 88% was a perfectly acceptable grade, and I wasn’t willing to give into the pressure to constantly be compared to the rest of them. The truth was, if I was getting an 88% without having to study at all, I was more than happy to continue down that path. It wasn’t that I didn’t have motivation; I just didn’t have it about Social Studies (or science, or math, or foreign language… but that’s not really the point).

It would have been really easy-- as a young girl who was still growing and maturing and learning from example-- to start obsessing over that number and let it determine my worth. I was certainly being compared to enough of my peers just based on it alone. And sure, that day the number merely reflected a grade in a class that ultimately would have no bearing on my future, but it just as easily could have been something more serious. In a society that boasts its addictions, it is especially tough as a young girl to know where and when (and how) to draw the line. After all (as an entirely wretched article in this month's Allure explores), girls are pit against each other as competition and told to pay strict attention to everything from the number on the scale (and then the number of calories we put in our mouths on a daily basis to affect the number on that scale) to the numbers in our bank account to the number of kids we want to have (which often times is dependent on the number in our bank account). It's a freakin' vicious cycle.

Math is a universal language, and though that can be beautiful (as my pal Damian would say), it can clearly serve to divide as much as it tries to unite. Maybe this is specific to the cattiness of teenage girls (but seeing as how that’s what I had to deal with growing up, it’s the only frame of reference I have), but our self-esteem always seems to be in battle with others.' So forget sticks, stones, or words; perhaps in the wrong hands, numbers can be a person’s greatest weapon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Odder News: "Shades of Gray"

Why is it that all of the rich, powerful, famous (and for the most part good-looking) people end up somehow related to each other? And how can I get in on that gene pool!?


Along those lines (you know, about families and biology and stuff), here is a sample chapter from the novel I am currently working on, "Shades of Gray."

Natalie sits on the floor in her father’s basement, surrounded by boxes. She has pulled them all open but has barely begun to separate them. When she was in elementary school, the basement used to be her game room: she and her friends would play with dolls or board games or even the old pinball machine or dartboard her father had left over from his bachelor days. There were always boxes stacked in the corners, full of old books or photographs or the occasional odd collection, like baseball cards or foreign money, or even little glass jars full of beetles. She used to love going through them and imagining the kids her parents were when they used the stuff inside.

She glances around, absently tracing a water ring with her finger on the cold cement floor. She remembers the night her mother cut this three by three square out of the stained gray carpet; it was the night before Mariah’s SATs, and she had just come home from California to tell her mother in person that she dropped out of college. Her mother listened quietly, her hands wrapped around a mug of once-hot coffee that had long-since gone stale. There had been some thudding sounds underneath them, but Natalie hadn’t paid much attention until the crash. Her mother stood up, stoically, without any emotion on her face whatsoever, as she grabbed a roll of paper towels and a bottle of pet stain remover and headed down the short wooden stairs. Natalie followed, confused, but it all became clear once her mother flipped on the light down there.

The awful checkered couch that her maternal grandparents gave her mother as a wedding present, and on which Natalie used to sit and play with those dolls while watching a cartoon or a black and white movie, was covered in a tarp, and that tarp was littered with empty beer bottles. Her father sat slumped on the floor, his Hanes tee stained yellow under the arms and around the neck and in a squiggly line down the center. There was a puddle to his right and another one by the stairs. A broken beer bottle lay on top of the one by the stairs, with a matching yellow stain on the wall just above it. As she glanced around the room, she saw older, dried stains and a cooler on top of that pinball machine. It was obvious to her he had been camped out down there for a while.

“Oh, Mom,” Natalie sighed, but her mother was already on her hands and knees, scrubbing the carpet. She remained that way for the better part of an hour, with Natalie sitting on the steps, her head in her hands, wishing she was back in her one-room apartment at college.

Her mother finally conceded and just hacked at the carpet with a box-cutter. A few days later, Natalie was back in California, trying to reverse the damage her trip home had caused to her new way of life. Her mother called her a few days later, saying she finally left her father, saying that Natalie inspired her-- if her teenage daughter could be so fearless, she had to be, too. Natalie congratulated her at the time, all the while thinking that it was really too little too late. “Where was that courageousness when I needed it as an example?” She thought. Her mother had always been her father’s greatest enabler; she stayed with him through all of his terrible behavior and never forced him to take a good, hard look at himself and “man up,” so to speak.

Until it was too late to really make a difference.

If anyone could have-- and should have-- been able to make a difference, Natalie knows it would have been her mother.

The color of the floor underneath matches almost flawlessly, Natalie marveled then and still notices now. She wonders how long it took Joe to notice the missing piece and if he ever asked what happened. She wonders how long it took him to notice his wife was missing when she walked out, too.

Natalie shakes her head as the door creaks open. She squints up at the stairs, when she hears Mariah’s voice emanate from the top: “Hey.” She holds up a bottle of wine and two glasses: “Thought you might need this.”

Natalie smiles. “Way ahead of you.” She holds up one of her own and then takes a swig, ignoring the irony in her situation.

“That was something, huh?” Mariah laughs and sits down next to her sister.

“What could you possibly be talking about?” Natalie is sarcastic, of course. It’s her natural defense mechanism aside from holing up behind her laptop and writing pages of dialogue of what she should have said-- what her super heroine characters in any number of screenplays and pilot scripts will say-- when faced with a similar confrontational situation.

“Come on, Nat; I’m not talking about them. I mean you. You actually started to open up to them back there.”

“Yeah, and it wasn’t the first time.”

Mariah is surprised and slightly confused by that revelation, but she doesn’t pry. She knows Natalie will tell her the whole story if and when it’s relevant.

“But it will certainly be the last.” Natalie swigs from the bottle again.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tonight, A Very Special Rose Ceremony...

Somehow I blinked and missed the promotional coverage for the newest season of The Bachelor because all of a sudden, there was Kelly Ripa talking about roses again one early morning. Although that is one reality show to which I am proud to say I never succumbed, I have always gotten a kick out of the idea of kicking contestants off by denying them the very symbol that our society has deemed a symbol of love, ultimately making them feel unworthy, regardless of how undesirable the man on the other end of the stem may actually turn out to be. On Best Week Ever, Doug Benson has become known as the Pop Culture Bachelor, handing out flowers to the week's stories that gave him the warm and fuzzies, but indulge me in something a bit different, hmm?

So, Tonight on a Very Special DanielleTBD.Blogspot.Com, TV's Worst Boyfriends:

First up has to be one-half of pop culture's so-called perfect couples (and clearly I don't agree with that assessment), Ross Geller from Friends. Putting the whole "three divorces" thing-- and the fact that he will often forget he’s on a date with you and leave to go do something else (ahem, Mona)-- aside, Ross is the epitome of the "friend guy" in romantic comedies. In fact, though Rachel admitted she never looked at him in a romantic sense, the only reason she changed her mind after learning he had been pining for her since they were kids was because Ross-- in a daydream, I might add-- told her to "start looking." In reality, though, it's never so cut and dry. If there's a guy in your life who has always been just your friend-- not even a rogue kiss or two here and there-- it's that way for a reason. Sometimes you're just not attracted to someone, or you think you wouldn't mesh well on a romantic (or even purely sexual) level. There's nothing wrong with that... except when the guy tries to guilt or pity you into dating him. So because Ross ultimately "wore Rachel down" (and since when are we teaching guys that “No doesn’t really mean No?”), he leads the pack for those who will never get one of my roses.

Following that lead is Ted Mosby (How I Met Your Mother), the kind of guy who says everything you want to hear, so it all seems perfect at first. Only as you travel down the relationship road with him, though, do you realize that it's not you he's interested in but the act of getting married in general. He wants to be in a relationship so badly, it doesn't even matter with who he's in it, and he ends up projecting so many of his hopes and desires onto you without ever stopping to consider who you are and what you might want out of the whole thing. He's extremely selfish and needy, and in that way he's quite the self-sabotager. What's worse is that he doesn't see anything wrong with his behavior and can't figure out why he has such a hard time finding "the one."

Vince (What I Like About You) and the actor who portrayed him-- Nick Zano, who had a habit of reading his own name off teleprompter copy-- had the fact that he was just too dumb for words working against him. There were more misunderstandings between him and Holly than in an average Three's Company episode, and whenever he made a mistake, and they got into a fight, he would just give up and turn to whoever else was around for some physical comfort, further angering his girlfriend by proving he didn't really respect her or their relationship. He was the typical adolescent jock who thought with the wrong head and probably should have outgrown his immaturity years earlier but just never cared enough to.

Michael Bluth (Arrested Development) has great hair, a killer smile, and dresses pretty well... and oh yeah, he comes from money and runs a business. Unfortunately, though, his family is more baggage than anyone could handle, and he never actually listens when people around him speak (leading to the kinds of misunderstandings that are only funny if you're on the outside of it), instead always seeming to focus on what he will say or do next. He seems to be well intentioned, but he just comes up short in that distracted, too-much-on-his-plate-and-not-enough-brain-power-to-handle-it sort of way.

Finally, I have to lump all of the guys of Entourage together (yes, each and every single one of the four… well, five if you include the somehow-married Ari) because not one of them is a prize. Though their comraderie is admirable in that they stick by each other's sides no matter what, it often gets in the way of how they treat the women in their lives. They, too, are in a state of perpetual adolescence, which gives them the collective emotional maturity of a fourteen year-old. And let's face it, grown men who go to lunch in thousand dollar watches and drawstring track pants doesn't exactly scream "responsible adult." They can barely take care of themselves; how can they be expected to even consider another person's needs or desires? And of course that's rhetorical because they don't care enough to consider it anyway.

I get it, writers, okay? Even the so-called "perfect" guys are flawed because they're all human, but honestly, in a world where women no longer have to rely on men for the things they need (or even want) out of life, you could work a little harder to create men who aren't so... damaged so that their relationships at least seem believable!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Where My Shows At?...

The time has come for primetime favorites to filter back on our television screens with their first new post-strike episodes, but as the updated lineups are announced, I can't help but notice there are still two great voids: The 4400 on USA and Army Wives on Lifetime. Neither are shows that innately screamed "Danielle!" in their initial promos; I am not usually one for sci-fi, nor rah-rah America programs, but both won me over within the pilot episode, and now I am hooked.

The 4400 started out as just another episodic, with each week taking a look at another newly returned character and the ability he or she has developed. I admit it only crossed my radar during an evening of rogue channel-surfing when I landed on a scene with Patrick Flueger (who has only gotten better with age) and the always-yummy Mahershalalhashbaz Ali. Psychics, mind-readers, and telekinetics were all equally intriguing, but where the show really picked up its pace was in it's second season, when instead of giving audiences more of the same, they completely (and surprisingly) revamped the structure and began to look more closely at a smaller ensemble. The show's most recent seasons have focused on the consequences of the early days of quarantine and voyeurism of the chosen few as if they were monkeys in the zoo. Due to that, doubt has been cast on who were the good guys and who were the true villains-- proving that nothing is black and white, especially when other forces are at work. The 4400 married religion, science, and the supernatural; taking on (in a tongue-in-cheek way) Scientology, the Patriot Act, and corruption that seemed to mirror that of our own current government. Characters may have traveled through space, time, and dimensions, but through all of that, The 4400 manages to stay a very grounded drama about how fear of the unknown serves to divide. It is both timely and timeless in that way.

Army Wives appeared to be just another suburban melodrama at first-- only with a group of four women bonding over a birth instead of a death. And sure, the Desperate Housewives parallels are definitely there, but Army Wives very quickly proved to stay true to the same kinds of friendships Housewives built but then abandoned in episode three. And sure, the first season had its soapy (and campy and pretty much chick flick TV) moments, and I'd call it a guilty pleasure if I weren't so shameless to just admit how much I love things. And I did love this: I cried every week, like a baby, and it felt like a therapeutic experience when the tears finally stopped falling. Army Wives moved at a perfect pace for the now-all-grown-up MTV generation, zigzagging between characters and events and never dwelling too long on any one, unlike the daytime counterparts. The show has tackled everything from young love to infidelity to the fear of mortality. They brought the reality of war home, into our living rooms every week, with a look at how it affected the one thing Americans care about most: themselves. Is it the most accurate slice of life? Of course not, but the show had one thing going for it that even the news media ignored: it showed that those on our front lines are husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, and of course, wives.

Neither of these shows have ever had to adhere to traditional network schedules due to their cable distribution, but this time their absence just feels severely prolonged. Though some other cable programs (including others on USA) announced their return alongside the networks, The 4400 was nowhere to be found. In fact, the cast is already picking up other gigs, most likely assuming the worst. Thankfully, Lifetime has announced the return of the Wives in June, but it is increasingly looking like the long-over fourth season of The 4400 will be its last, making it just another show that never got a chance to say their proper good-bye. I guess one out of two ain’t bad, though, right (especially these days!)?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Notes From The Not-So Underbelly Of My Week...

- Christian Siriano totally stole "Fierce" from Mean Girls' Damian. And apparently some genius at Access Hollywood thanks it will be a good idea for him to call the tween crowd "tranny messes." Doesn't anyone remember the fallout from Kathy Griffin's Dakota Fanning in rehab bit? And that was a joke.

- A father and son have matching forehead tattoos (and matching mugshots to prove it); the father's reads "Git Er Dun," and the son's reads "Psycho." I'm honestly not sure which is worse, but at least I feel better that mine aren't so literally "in your face."

- Miss/Guided parodied Perez Hilton this week; I kind of heart that show even more now.

- I like Bravo because they’ll show me Perry’s bare ass. And okay, for a pixelated Ben, too. ;)

- The LA Mission is well intentioned, but perhaps they should think about serving things that won’t give the homeless heart disease ‘cause Lord knows the shoes they give them aren’t enough to get them to the hospital!

- CBS has stolen Eric Winter back from ABC, but not how I pitched (I guess they didn't want to have to pay my residual fee). He will appear on at least three episodes of Moonlight starting at the end of April. Looks like I'll be making a trip to the dark side!

- American Idol seems to be pitching a horror movie about cheesy lounge singers who get trapped together in a dark, abandoned old house. I guess they had to try to mix it up a bit when they realized the weakness of the vocals offered by the majority of this season's contestants.

- When I went out last night, my dog chewed through the coaxial cable connection my wireless modem to the jack in the wall. My dog, who is one year old and clearly not acting like the adult he is supposed to be, has dozens of toys to play with and is always left with plenty of water, food and a cookie when I leave the house. For some reason, though, he prefers pee pads, pillows, and now apparently plastic wiring to actual food. Time Warner can't come until next week to reconnect me; if he wasn't so darn adorable... So this is my first mobile blog. I hope it worked the way I wanted it to.

- This coming-up-with-witty-and-worthy topics daily thing is much harder than it initially sounded! I'm going to need a big nap at the end of this month.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

An Open Letter To Kristoffer Polaha...

Dear Kris:

Okay, so I know you come from money, and your family owns an island or something, making you a real life prince in addition to America's Prince-- which is quite possibly the role for which you're most famous-- and therefore you don't really need to work to provide for your wife and your boys. So because of that, I would only assume that when you choose to, it would be on something in which you really believe. You've guest starred on some questionable (and some quality) episodics in the past, and surely you took the lead in North Shore for a chance to temporarily relocate to the beautiful island of Hawaii. When you co-produced the slightly raunchy (at least compared to the chaste Christian image you've always given off) Plight of Clownana, I assumed it was as a favor to good family friend Jensen Ackles... but then I caught the slightly older short film Homebase, and I stepped back for a moment to reassess your choices in material. Everything thus far has had a very specific air around it, and at first I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was, but then I realized you're just truly living the dream. You are someone who wants to act and will take on roles in which you can have fun. It's not all a numbers game; it's not something you do just to get by and pay the bills. You are still in it for the creativity and the love (and sure, even often the goofiness) that comes with losing yourself in another character, and you have showed a much quirkier sense of humor than for which your genuinely good guy smile gives you credit. Needless to say, when I saw your name in the trades for the new Judy Greer comedy, Miss/Guided, I signed up immediately.

Miss/Guided premiered this week with a sneak preview on Tuesday and then settled into its normal time slot on Thursdays at 8 (Friends' old stomping grounds!), and despite the mixed reviews (I usually don't follow things like that or ratings patterns anyway because I just don't care; if I like something, I like something, and I don't care if no one else agrees with me), it seems like you have finally found your niche. You get to play the romantic lead without the schmaltz; you get to play the nice guy without the cliché; you get to do a family-friendly show with a message without the corny. And might I remind you that you get to do it all opposite comedy genius Judy Greer. For a Fox-produced program, Miss/Guided is certainly ABC tame, offering glimpses at eccentric behavior but always doing so in a way that's compliant with the censors and the more "old-school" audiences. Maybe none of that even crossed your mind, though; maybe you just read the script, laughed, liked it, wanted to be involved, and left worrying about the logistics issues to those in charge. You certainly seem to be a true artist in that way, anyway, and that's exactly the kind of talent with which I like to surround myself.

Maybe you're just such a good guy, you want to be a part new, young filmmakers' projects in order to help get them noticed... and that reason alone is enough for me to want to see you succeed. You truly are a rarity in Hollywood, as you manage to stay grounded, focused, and always with your family as your first priority. Years ago I tapped you as male lead in my small screen version of Stars in their Eyes for those reasons, in fact, because they perfectly embodied what I was trying to portray, so if the critics turn or the network mismatch proves to be too much, and not even a Jericho-esque Number 2 pencil campaign convinces TPTB that you deserve a fair shot, please consider giving this new, young filmmaker a chance and coming on board-- though now I am toying with the idea of making it for an even smaller screen (as a web series). I only hope that would not be too small for you.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What Do YOU Define As Success?...

This may be a day late, but our country is a trillion dollars short.

Two days ago, our misguided Commander in Chief addressed the nation regarding the fifth year anniversary of the "War on Terror," calling the efforts in Iraq "a success." Yes, folks, while soldiers have been overseas, unable to see the babies they left behind grow into kindergarteners, the war itself became one around them, and this selfish, haughty man-child chooses to celebrate that fact like it's just any kid's birthday party.

When the country went to war in 2001, Bush assured us that we would be eliminating the power of a regime that harbors terrorists. Back then everyone was still reeling from the shock of 9/11, so very few (and even fewer publicly) called him out on the fact that al Qaeda Was. Never. In. Iraq! Although over the last few years more and more have used that fact against Bush and his liberal attitude towards war funding, it has never been enough over which for the masses to get up in arms. Two nights ago, protestors stood on the streets of Westwood (as they're prone to do) with signs and banners: "Honk if you're for an end to the war" and "No more blood for oil" were the staples. Earlier that day there was a similar march in Hollywood where hundreds of young people carried empty coffins draped in the American flag to symbolize what this is really costing us. Unfortunately, though, that attempt falls on deaf ears to a country of capitalists who can't understand anything beyond the numbers.

So let's try this then: 75: that's the number of bases we have in Iraq to date. 190,000: that's the number of guns we use to defend those bases. 3,989: that's the number of our guys (and girls) killed; no one's counting the other side. 29,385: that's the number of severely wounded without proper VA care to which to come home (30% of which have serious mental conditions). 155,000: that's the number of US troops currently in Iraq. $390,000: that's the cost of keeping one soldier deployed for a year. $9,500,000,000: that's how much of taxpayers' money was considered "mismanaged" or wasted". $10,000,000,000: that's how much of our spending was reported as being "mismanaged" or wasted in total. $12,000,000,000: that's how much we spend in Iraq per month. $600,000,000,000: that's how much of taxplayers' money was spent on this pointless "cause."

Now, entering it's sixth year later, Bush is sticking to his story, and at least I will give him that. When he commits to a lie, he stands by it-- not unlike OJ in that regard. He still claims "we are working toward freeing the Iraqi people... and defending our nation from grave danger." He still claims we are doing everything in our power not to harm civilians while we roll our militia tanks through their residential neighborhoods and drop bombs like water balloons. He still claims we have no agenda there other than to ensure our future safety and to disarm a potentially huge threat. He made no mention of the young boys and girls who watch what they see as injustices at the hands of our soldiers daily and who will inevitably grow up to hate us as much as they fear us. We're creating more threats, and we haven't even eliminated the one we went to war for in the first place.

Bush spoke little of the aforementioned financial cost of the war, other than to say it has been "more costly than we anticipated," and I had to laugh out-loud at that one. No sir, the figures were all there, estimated in part by your own economic advisor (who of course you had to fire because of that), but just because you chose to low-ball to make it look like a better investment doesn't mean you won't step in shit when the production is underway and the costs keep raking up. If I did that as a Line Producer for even one small film, I'd never get hired again. It's just common sense bad business practice, in addition to being decadently deceitful. The current financial cost of this war is estimated at $505,000,000,000, with the interest expected to match that, so it's no wonder our citizens are in debt: they're just following the poor example of the country as a whole.

In 2001, Hillary Clinton stood by Bush's side in political solidarity and supported the war. In 2001, she did something so innately optimistic, I admit it's in part why I support Obama over her: she blindly trusted Bush and Co. were not just being self-serving but actually doing what was best for the country by invading Iraq. She did not ask the pertinent questions; she did not dare to challenge the authority; she just accepted their word and robotically complied. Perhaps as a new New Yorker, she was partially still just in shock from that awful day. I, too, was guilty of numbly following the herds that day, seemingly incapable of free thought for the first time in my life. So perhaps Clinton just couldn't see past her blind rage that something so awful could happen on her home turf. Perhaps she just wanted to ingratiate herself to a man higher up on the political food chain in a time when his approval rating was the most respectable it would ever be. I can't prove her motives back then, but I can certainly tell you her noticeable absence now is not just due to a busy touring schedule. Thankfully she has seemed to learn from her mistakes now, though, and she has wised up enough to know that the best thing for her is to distance herself as much as possible from the beady-eyed warmonger.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Top of the Class At Another 20 Year Reunion...

With the 20th anniversary season of The Real World hitting the air just in time for Sweeps (May 21) and the previous seasons' first Real World Awards show coming to MTV on April 2 (and considering most showed up for said red carpet looking unidentifiable), I have decided to take a look at some of my favorite past RW-ers* and see what they've been up to since leaving the MTV limelight. I am highlighting the one stand-out from every season since I began watching (which was only in 2000; I didn't have cable TV as a kid, remember?).

Sadly, this list does not start off too well, but I'm sure it will pick up (it has to, right? MTV couldn't possibly have cursed everyone who has crossed its cameras...), as my favorite from RW: New Orleans, David Broom, who became famous on his season for being the one who didn't cause controversy or upset amongst the group, wanted to stay in the spotlight in a modeling career but ended up there four years after his season ended for an arrest that would make Eliot Spitzer shake his head in shame (David's hooker of choice was of the toothless, cracked-out, under $20 variety). Though he has since displayed his moving vocal talents in an episode of Chappelle's Show, the stigma of his record must have been too much for him because he has retreated into anonymity in Chicago. Rumor has it he works as a doorman at the Ritz-Carlton.

I haven't seen Mike "The Miz" Mizanin (RW: Back To NY) since Christmas 2005 at the Grove. He was shopping with some other ex-MTV "stars" who shall remain nameless because they are far from my favorites and therefore undeserving of being mentioned here, now. That year marked his last appearance on a Real World/Road Rules Challenge, as he was already making the jump to full-time professional wrestling with the WWE, something which he said he wanted to do way back when he first appeared on the small screen. And unlike many other RW alumni who call themselves actors but never actually have roles in anything, Mike is making his dream come true: he also appears on the WWF Smackdown! and shares the Tag Team Championship title and belt with John Morrison. Hell, the kid even has his own action figure!

Though I actually only caught a few eps of RW: Chicago, I guess I have to talk about Kyle Brandt who spoke openly about wanting to become a politician on his season but then moved out to L.A. to become a soap opera actor. Far cry, my man; far cry. Though he left Days of our Lives in 2006, he has continued to pursue acting, and he will next appear in the indie Broken Windows alongside Larisa Oleynik, Jennifer Hall, and another soap alumn, Jason George.

Ah, Vegas... who can I talk about from RW: Vegas? During the season, the only cast member I felt I could relate to even a little bit was Irulan, but since the airing of Reunited: The Real World Las Vegas Reunion mini-series, I was saddened to see that most of the immaturity that shone during the early twenty-somethings initial season was still at the forefront some five years later. In fact, the only cast member who seemed to be making something of herself at all was Brynn Smith, who appeared to be the youngest emotionally the first time around, making herself known as the fork-throwing bar dancer. Brynn expressed trepidation about returning to the suite because of just how different her life is now, especially comparatively. She married the guy she was dating during her season, Austin Cain, and they live far away from La La Land with their two little boys.

Mallory Snyder (RW: Paris) always seemed to be a "down home girl" who was born to be in front of the camera. During her season, she caught my attention due to her striking physical resemblance to my then on-air host (and current reality TV star), Alexis Jones. Though she didn't get the guy in the end (Ace went on to date RW: San Diego alumn Cameran after meeting her on a Challenge), she did get the career... at least for a little while. Flipping through one of my mother's Avon campaigns, I did a double-take, surprised that Alexis wouldn't have told me she got a modeling gig with the company for which my mother used to work. Upon closer inspection, though, I saw that it was in fact Mallory who graced the cosmetics catalog page; and she has had other such gigs, appearing in back-to-back Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues and most recently in Self Magazine.

Jamie Chung became famous during RW: San Diego for being the only cast member to immediately take notice of the sexual assault incident (oh excuse me, the alleged sexual assault) and do what she could to help the girl get the proper help safely. She has since taken less noble roles as an Under Five in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, CSI: NY, and Days of our Lives. She can next be seen in the live-action adaptation of Dragonball (same title) due out in 2009.


Looking at a photo of the RW: Philadelphia cast, the only one (other than MJ) I remember is Landon Lueck, so I know that season was the beginning of the end of my love aff-- oh, who am I kidding? my mild interest in the show. Known for wandering around the cold east coast house shirtless, Landon has shown off his athletic physique professionally as an underwear model in recent years. He also tested his acting chops in the 2006 film Open Mic'rs and has performed as a country singer, touring with fellow MTV-reality star, Nick Lachey.

Lacey Buehler won me over during RW: Austin for taking charge of and treating very seriously the documentary project the roommates were given as their assignment, despite Nehemiah's vehement claims that he was "the film guy" and wanted to work in that industry professionally when he left the house. She was the self-proclaimed levelheaded and opinionated one down south (and her actions on the show did back up those adjectives), who wasn't a drinker or a partier in general. It's really no surprise that in researching this blog, absolutely no information could be found on her other than a two-year-old article (it came out right when the season finale did) about the hate mail she got for being portrayed as a backstabber. Presumably Lacey is back in Florida, living the quiet, unassuming lifestyle she did before the show.

Jose Tapia (RW: Key West) won me over from his audition video, and he proved himself to be one of my favorite "characters" of all time with his sweet smile, laid back demeanor, and independent spirit. It's still hard to say why someone as low-key as Jose went on a drama-filled program like The Real World, which is notorious for featuring high maintenance individuals. Already a businessman when he went on the show, he has continued down that path and in 2007, he started his own real estate investment firm. Jose has also leant his name and fame to the Get Out The Vote cause and has dabbled in writing music.

I watched about five minutes of RW: Denver-- and I never tuned into RW: Sydney at all-- because at first glance I could tell these new kids were all just clones of each other, and their gorgeous spread had become a glorified frat house. When Mary-Ellis Bunim got the idea for The Real World: a social experiment where seven strangers from all walks of life are picked to live in a house, work together, and see what happens when they "stop being polite and start getting real," somehow I think she envisioned more of Pedro's raising awareness of HIV and AIDs and less of Trishelle's drunken make-outs. Though I don't have high hopes that RW: Hollywood will take the show back to where it needs to be on a socially conscious level, a girl can dare to dream, can't she?

*Those who have appeared on a recent Challenge were not eligible for consideration.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Control At Any Cost...

"Do you feel safer now? Do you think you will anytime soon? Do you think duct tape, and Kleenex, and color codes will make you safer?"

When you’ve just brought a little one into the world, I know the instinct is to shield them and protect them from pain. You start with the simple things, like wrapping them in warm blankets when they sleep at night and placing plastic covering over their carriages on days that have extreme weather, but quickly it escalates, and suddenly you’re trying to keep them away from anything and everything that could possibly do them harm. It’s a noble cause, really, but I must warn you that it will inevitably backfire. At least it did in my case.

I know what you’re thinking right about now: you have it under control, and you’re not going to let your desire to keep your kids safe become an obsession. My parents probably said the same thing, but what you define as safety, someone else will inherently define as overly cautious. At first I wasn’t allowed to play in sandboxes because of the potential to pick up germs, disease, and rogue hypodermic needles (that’s probably a regional worry, though). Since I grew up in a major metropolitan area, I didn’t know what I was missing by not being allowed access to the closest comforts of the beach that I could get. Naturally, it got worse, though, when my parents (well, namely my father) saw how easy it was to dictate what a small child could or could not do. Even the smallest taste of power will leave a man drooling for more, like a vampire getting his first drop of blood.

Next up was processed sugar: I was the kid whose parents brought in the healthy snacks when it was their turn to supply the pre-school class. When others would have their birthday parties, I wasn’t allowed to share the cupcakes or pound cake because the parties were before lunchtime. I didn’t taste my first Cheeto until I was eight years old. Needless to say, once I got a taste of the forbidden stuff, it was all I wanted to have, and I binged. Cocoa Pebbles became a treat I was allowed once a week for breakfast, and now it’s the only cereal I keep stocked in my cabinets at all times.

What was worst, though, was that we didn’t have cable television when I was a child—partially because of the expense and partially because my parents thought I would watch too much TV in general, and too many of the programs would be ones which they couldn’t screen first to make sure they were “acceptable." The rabbit ears offered quite a few options, but my father shut most of those down, drunk on power of withholding. I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons or Married With Children because of the “adult content,” though most of my friends could (and would) screen and then discuss them the next day in schoolyard at lunch (and most of the “adult” jokes went over their heads anyway). While watching the episode of Friends where Ross and Rachel… you know, I laughed out-loud when Ross told Rachel she just rolled over the juicebox, and she said: “Oh thank God!” My father turned to me with a raised eyebrow and asked how I knew what that meant. I just shrugged; I was ten, and I had assumed she thought he had peed his pants. Only a couple of years later when catching a rerun did I finally understand what she really thought had happened.

All that homemade censorship never felt like it was “for my own good” but rather a very gym teacher-like way to grasp the little importance he might have had, and again, when I finally controlled the remote for myself, I never let it go or turned it off. It's why I still gobble up everything I normally wouldn’t have batted an eye at if I hadn’t been deprived of it early on (reality tv, I'm calling YOU out!). I, too, just wanted to prove I could, and look at me now: spending hours claiming research as I recline on my couch with my laptop watching, writing, and watching some more.

So parents, a piece of advice: dial back your neuroses a little bit. Your obsessions will indefinitely carry over to your children, only they may manifest themselves in slightly different ways. My father didn’t want me to learn anything about life through television-- afraid it would send me the “wrong message," and that's exactly where I ended up turning to when I was looking for important answers. I certainly didn't feel comfortable going to a control freak like him instead, so if you care about to what your kids are exposed, maybe you should take a good, hard look at yourself first. If you want your kids to trust you when you tell them you’re only protecting them, you need to trust them a little bit, too; like respect, trust needs to be earned, and children can be far more intuitive than for which they are often given credit. If your motives are pure, they will know, and if your motives are self-serving… well, they’ll know that, too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

All I've Learned About Love...

A mother and her daughter sit on a wooden floor playing with Barbie dolls. The daughter stops pensively and looks at her mother with hope in her eyes.
  • “Mom, how do you know when it’s true love?”
  • “Well, usually the music gets louder. Oh, or sometimes they look up in slow-motion.”
  • “No, not on TV, Mom; in real life.”
The mother’s face clouds over, and she gazes off in the distance, eager to find something to which to change the subject. She doesn’t have a clue as to how to answer and guide her child through this tough time in her life, so she finds it easier just to ignore the issue. Her own personal examples only come from those fictional television couples, and she knows from firsthand experience how unhealthy it can be to grow up with those as role models.

Such a scene in a film will inevitably cause me to laugh-out-loud-- as was the case with Amy Heckerling's I Could Never Be Your Woman-- but should one occur in my actual life, I might just have a panic attack. Like Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, I’d have to take a moment to pause and figure out a way to distract my child from the fact that I can’t quite answer, and if I’m just honest enough to say that I don’t know, I’ll inevitably have to contend with the “But why?” that follows. Now, I don’t plan to have my own children, and in doing that, I also plan not to have girls. That should alleviate some of the past experiences that I’d be expected to share, but I know I, too, won’t be able to stave off all of the questions forever.

No one has ever come right out and accused me of not having a clue when I talk about relationships or offer my psycho-analyzation about the current guy or girl situation in which my friends are currently, but I often wonder if that’s what they’re silently thinking while I’m rambling. “What the hell does she know?” And maybe they’d even be right in thinking that way; after all, the time I’ve known some of my closest friends now has been one of perpetual singledom for me, and contrary to what popular film and television may tell you, a woman can be happy that way: I most certainly am. For all of this time, I have actively pursued staying single, and it’s actually easier to do than one might think. I’m not looking for a relationship, and I’m not the kind of girl who will just troll bars or clubs for a one-night stand, so right now, I just find it easier to just stay away from dating in general.

So how do you explain something to your child that you’ve never experienced for yourself and that you’re not even sure really exists? Do you revert to outdated images of childhood fairy tales or even the slightly more updated post-millenium ones? Do you point to people who seem to have it all (assuming you’re blessed enough to have such examples in your life)? Do you throw on a song or print out some lyrics and leave it up to the kid's own interpretation? Or do you turn it around and ask the kid what he or she thinks true love is?

My own parents did none of the above, probably mostly because I never brought my inquiries to their attention. So like Pfeiffer's character, all of my examples came from on-screen. I saw what I thought was true love first with Ariel and Eric and eagerly identified with the young hopeful who spotted the dude (and even though he was of a different species) just immediately knew. I patiently rewound my soundtrack cassette as the afternoons clicked on until I had all of the lyrics to "Part of Your World" memorized and could belt them out along with Jodi Benson (though I came nowhere near hitting the same notes).

It was not until I got a little bit older, though, that I realized (even when it's fictional) it's not all flowers and love songs in a relationship. Jesse and Rebecca and Zack and Kelly got together, fought, and separated-- albeit sometimes over petty misunderstandings-- but they ended up together in the end. So even though their problems barely scratched the surface of what those of us in the "real world" may face, they were examples that there had to be love there to survive... right?

A few years later, John and Marlena and Carrie and Austin had insane (seemingly insurmountable) obstacles thrown at them from all angles, and yet despite the divorces and the brainwashings and the marriages to other people, they, too, always found their way as a couple. And that's when it hit me: in all of these scenarios-- in all of these relationships-- the guy always took on the stereotypical provider/hero role. He was there to swoop in and save his lady love from whatever ghastly fate she may be facing this week, never limited to just the serious kidnappings (ahem, Mr. Black), but also creating a mini-prom when she couldn't afford the real one (Mr. Morris). None of that necessarily screams love at all; in fact, none of that is a particularly healthy image to which to look up and secretly hope for your own life. Yet, here they were: my examples.

But that only caused me to dig a little bit deeper inside of myself. If your actual life is so devoid of positive, happy, in-love couples that you have to look to the screen to understand the meaning of those words, . Maybe even in the beginning, in my early examples, I wasn't so much dreaming of the dark-haired prince to rescue me from a stifling existence as I was just dreaming of that escape in general.

Baby Danielle, trying to bust out of her fenced-in world since the 1980s.

And maybe that explains a little bit more about the way that I am now. Maybe I knew who I was at such a young age-- and became comfortable with who I was at such a young age-- because of all of the forced introspection. I didn't take things at face value or just accept what people tried to tell me; I questioned, and I thought about how it all applied to me, to my life. And that's what I want my own kids to do someday; I don't want them to be mindless, nodding drones that just blindly accept anything they see or hear. There are a whole lot of theories these days about the effect television has on children's emotional growth, and I'm not going to argue either side because I can only speak to my own very unique, very subjective experiences. But I will say this: as much as I did or did not learn about the reality of love from fictional examples, I know enough to know I never want my kids to feel like they can only get their answers from a flat panel on a wall. All of my neuroses that they'll think I'm talking out of my ass or my uncertainty about what to say to them or how to say it aside, I do know it is not a job but a privilege as a parent to share your story with your children, and as much as it may be with trepidation, I am looking forward to those moments.

Monday, March 17, 2008

They're Ba-ack!...

The first new episodes of scripted primetime programming since the strike are beginning to trickle back to air tonight, some boasting new time slots and special guest stars (both How I Met Your Mother), but with such a prolonged absence, it isn't really necessary to go all out and create a flashier version of their former selves; the fans are just happy to see their TiVos fill up once again with their consistent and true favorites. All that considered, let's take a look at some of my favorite scripted shows and what I think they should do in order to come back strong:

Before the strike, both Cold Case and Without a Trace had taken detours in the early parts of their respective seasons to explore their characters' personal lives in a way that teetered on the edge of melodramatic serial, but Bruckheimer needs to leave the soap operas to ABC because what he does best is straight crime procedural. Cold Case started its fifth season with a bang but then created an erratic pattern by jumping week-to-week between decades-old victims and ones who died almost yesterday. Though a few pre-strike episodes were saved and aired in February, the first episode in this new era, so to speak, airs on March 30. To avoid falling into the aforementioned back-and-forth trap, they should return with a strong period piece-- preferably one from the 1930s or 1950s to intersperse black and white noir photography with today's hyper kinetic, glossy HD style-- to remind us just of what they are capable. The story has to be poignant and equally as strong as the visuals to make a statement: it should deal with a hate crime-- one that creates tension amongst the detectives, so the audience gets the impression that they have been working tirelessly, thanklessly, and sometimes even unsuccessfully the whole time the audience was away.

My original pitch to the writers of Without a Trace (returning on April 3) still stands, but now the Martin Fitzgerald doppelgänger won't just be someone investigated for a crime but also the father of Samantha Spade's baby. Still unable to let Martin go, she saw someone who could practically be his double in a bar and brought him home for a night, which as the investigation goes on and it becomes clear this guy is a sociopath, serves to feed her already apprehensive attitude about bringing this baby into her lifestyle.

Though at this point, it is the golden child and can't really do any wrong, 30 Rock (returning April 10) should embrace their self-reflectiveness once again and do their first episode back about crew members who threaten to strike after something Jack Donaghy says gets misconstrued when Liz repeats it. Jack then flippantly remarks that the show can go on without the crew—with them in the back of the room, of course—and they walk out hours before the show is supposed to go live, leaving Liz to call Jenna and Tracy into the writers’ room. I don’t think I have to explain that chaos would ensue then!

Last we left the gals on Wisteria Lane, a freak tornado had torn apart everyone’s life. Starting on April 13, we need to see a more permanent vulnerability to these courageous, stretched-at-the-seams women, which is not at all unlike the direction in which Samantha Who?’s heroine should go on April 7. With the "Desperate" gals, they need to band back together the way they did in the wake of Mary Alice’s tragic demise and find strength in that bond-- picking up literal hammers and nails to put the ruined homes back together, too. Call it an Extreme Home Makeover crossover, but it would do them all a lot of good to get their hands dirty in a literal sense for a change. With Samantha needs to pick up the pieces of her life in a similar way, as well, beginning with reclaiming her apartment from her ex and his new girlfriend. I’d also love to see her branch outside of her immediate family to try to remember her old life: she needs to look up old teachers, babysitters, boyfriends from high school, whatever it takes for answers… and laughs.

We know a lot about the personal lives of our favorite Special Victims Unit detectives-- how they handle themselves in a chase, with a gun at their temple, with a gun at their partner’s temple, or with a gun drawn on the perpetrator. We know a lot about their family and home lives, and just this season we watched Eliot’s wife give birth yet again. But there is one plebe who is still a mystery: Detective Chester (Chester!?) Lake. Come April 14, though, that needs to change: a glimpse of Lake’s inner darkness needs to come out and set his character on an arc unlike any of the others. The show can open as it normally does, with some unwitting citizen stumbling on a fairly young, very obviously dead girl, but this will be one case that Benson and Stabler can’t quite crack… because the perpetrator (revealed in the now obligatorily expected twist at the end) is their colleague and friend, Lake.

There are some pretty high expectations for the shows starting up again in the coming weeks. With so much time apart, audiences have had time to re-watch but mostly to anticipate. They are expecting to be wowed, especially when compared to the quality of the ever-increasing number of reality shows they have had to contend with in the scripted’s absence. So now the bar has been set, boys and girls; welcome back, but be sure to clear it.