This is Epth Nation

Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Intermission: Open Letter to Alias, Inc.

Dear Alias Writers,

Here are 5 suggestions to improve your already-great show. Our research indicates that implementation of each one of these suggestions will improve your ratings 1.23%.

1) Instead of names like "SD-6", "K-Directorate", "CIA", and "NPR", choose more colorful and interesting names like "Afro-sheen", "Fish People", and "Pile of Lint".

2) Characters with bad hair should be killed. These characters include: Will, Vaughn, Sark, That One Guy in Episode Nine, and That One Guy Who was on "The Single Guy". Well, that last guy will need to be dug up and killed again. Also, invite Pete Sampras for a cameo and have him killed too, preferably with a razor-sharp tennis racket.

3) All this Rambaldi stuff is too confusing. Instead of a 500-year-old inventor, make Sloane become obsessed with a 5-year-old psychic talking puma voiced by Bill Walton.

4) Instead of Sloane, make Charlie the Cheating Bastard from the first part of the first season the main bad guy. Have him cheat on Francie again, then Sydney, then Will, then Sloane, then Sark, then Sydney's mom, then on his taxes, then have him take steroids and play baseball, then have him shoplift some Rambaldi documents from "Kohl's". I don't know why they'd be in Kohl's, they pay you to think of that.

5) Two Words: Zombie Daniel.

Thanks for your consideration, and if I see any of these on your show in its remaining run, I will sue your pants off.

Michael Pape
Concerned Viewer

Alias: Season One

Every once in a while, a show is born that makes you realize that network TV doesn't have to be all bad -- that network TV can produce, almost despite itself, a fun and interesting show. An example of this is ABC's Alias, now in its fourth season. I've only just gotten through season one, however, so that's what I'm concerned with. The next two seasons are coming, and with the speed this show's plot moves, there could be 5000 twists by then.

Alias is a bizarre combination of angst-filled young adult melodrama (like Felicity, or Seventh Heaven. There are better examples but I can't think of them because they suck, and I don't like to strain to think of things that suck) and total shocking spy madness. In the pilot episode, the scene is set up plot-wise: Sydney Bristow was recruited by SD6, which she thought was a friend of the CIA, to do spy stuff. When she told her cornball fiance' Daniel this she didn't specify that the info was on the down-low so the goof calls and leaves a message on her answering machine which SD6 intercepts. The next thing you know, Daniel is dead in a bloody bathtub and SD6 is going after Sydney. Syd eventually gets back into SD6, only thjs time as a double agent working for the real CIA. So, SD6 gives her ridiculous missions to get stuff and then she tells the CIA and they give her counter-missions to steal the stuff for the CIA or make copies of it or somesuch. The craziest part of the plot in Season One is this dude named Rambaldi who was a "prophet" in Europe in the 1500's(?). He was excecuted, but not before he could plant all sorts of interesting information all around the globe, like a giant cave in Argentina and a vault in the Vatican. And what are the characteristics of being a Prophet, according to the Alias writing staff?
1) Foreseeing technology from the far future, like cell phones and red-ball hoverment devices (don't ask -- I've seen it, and I know no more than you).
2) Writing things down in invisible ink that can only be seen when you brush the paper with a solution you invented.
3) Planting things all over the globe so that the Alias people could have someplace to send Syd, therefore providing the building blocks of a spy show
4) Picking a totally random number and making it important, such as 47.
5) Making Nostradomus-like cryptic statements that can be interpreted in any number of ways.
6) Apparently, not being filled with the Spirit of God and making pronouncements, like we'd always thought.

side note: 6) is a swipe at the writers for something they did that is completely understandable: mis-defining the word "prophet" to mean, "mystical dude who sees into the future." The word they're looking for is seer, not prophet. These days, with the confluence and intermarriage between all spiritual ideas, it appears to us that Old Testament Prophets and Nostradomus-esque fortune tellers are the same thing. In fact, they are opposed to each other.

Here are the main characters in Alias, and how they fare in Season One:

Sydney Bristow is the main character of the show and its principal protagonist. She is the only one whose motives aren't in question (besides possibly whitebread CIA zilch Vaughn, but that's only because he's such a horrible character and actor that all nuances are lost), and it is through her that we learn about all the missions and craziness. Her strengths: beating people up, lying to people, executing complex plans. Her weaknesses: Killing (people are killed semingly every episode; nice Sydney never voluntarily kills anyone), having appropriate emotional reactions. Let's see, let me name all the things that have happened to her in Season One: Her fiance' is murdered; she has about 2000 fistfights; one friend breaks up her engagement; another friend finds out about her spying and is tortured; she gets reinvolved with a fleeb from her past who turns out to be a deadly evil assassin, and then unwittingly kills him; she thinks her dad is a former KGB hitman, later finds out it was actually her dead mother; she figures out her mom is actually still alive; she almost sees her SD6 flunkie partner and friend killed; she is tortured not once but twice; she is interrogated by the FBI, who think that she's going to overthrow the government; she is interrogated by SD6, who rightly think she's a double agent; she does the "which color wire do I cut" thing on a ticking nuclear bomb; one of her friends (who happens to be the wife of her hated enemy) is dying of cancer; and so on. But my point is, the biggest emotional reaction we get from her is when 4 CIA guys she just met were blown up. This girl can take anything, but blow up people she barely knows and she might just have an old-fashioned freak-out. Anyway, she's great, and Jennifer Garner is great, and they have a contest each week among the wardrobe people to come up with the most absurd, tight, and flashy undercover outfit, and then they have her fight some dudes in it. This is great TV, even if it is directed by the guy from "Thirtysomething".

Michael Vaughn, Syd's CIA "handler", is a fleeb, as I said before. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what annoys me about him. He's clearly meant to be hunky and all-American and nice and studly and a love interest for the flashy Ms. Bristow, but something doesn't add up. He's going for "serious CIA hunk" and ending up with "Keanu" for some reason. As far as the character itself goes, he's like the good CIA guy, as I said before. He always seems out of his league. And the ponderous love storyline between him and Sydney that they want so bad to be the next Ross/Rachel starcrossed people thing is a complete failure, mainly because they clearly don't have any idea what to do with it. They even have Syd sleep with a different, even more fleeby, guy in the second half of season two, in order to delay everything. The Syd/Vaughn relationship might just be kryptonite for this show, and the writers know it.

Jack Bristow, Syd's "father", is also a spy working undercover for the CIA at SD6. He's constantly saving Sydney and her friends from undue scrutiny and stinky death at the hands of SD6 director Arvin Sloane. He's like the hero of most of the episodes, even though his shadowy past and emotionless lifestyle keep everybody from liking him. One of the things the show set up early on is the evolving relationship between Syd and her father Jack, and how eventually trust and (dare we say it, Felicity?) love develops between them. He's always figuring out ways to get stuff done, and he's well acted to boot. I can't think of a scene in which I didn't like him.

Dixon, Syd's SDC partner, thinks that SD6 is a division of the CIA, just like Syd once did. Syd is constantly subverting his plans, and he was constantly not noticing until he fought a burka-wearing Syd and stabbed her in the arm. The writers are very careful to paint Dixon as a good guy whose suspicions of Syd are extremely reluctant. He's also the unhippest black man on the planet -- his pants may as well be held on with safety pins attached to his shirt. He's the guy who gets to go with Syd on all these silly dress-up missions, and you haven't lived until you see an unhip black man try to pass himself off as eurotrash. Dixon is a ton o' fun, but they don't put him in every episode, mainly because he's not a threat to get into Syd's flashy wardrobe, so to speak. More Dixon and less Collection of Fleeby White Guys with RidicuHair, I say.

Arvin Sloane is the main bad guy of the first season(not counting Syd's KGB mother, who never appears, or any of the other SD6-equivalent agencies). He has two weaknesses, make that three: He loves his cute dying wife Emily, he seems to view Sydney as a daughter, and he will believe anything James Bond tells him (Roger Moore has a great cameo that nearly redeems the second half of the season). Most of the suspense especially in the first half of season one centers on keeping Sloane from knowing the Bristows are double agents. If he doesn't know by now, he should have his spy license revoked (maybe Sydney putting a bug in his safe at home should have tipped him off). But if he knows he never lets on, and eventually his character develops and softens and then finishes with him poisoning his wife to advance his career and his obsession with Rambaldi's FunVentions From the Future. There's always a twist or two regarding him in every episode, so just when you feel like you know him, he does something opposite of what you think he'll do. This guy just gives the general impression of being up to something, which is a good thing for a bad guy to have. The problem is he often comes across as being likable, which is good for character development reasons but kind of undercuts the tension at times.

stay tuned for part 2: more characters.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Fax Bucks

At some point, I'm going to have to tackle Alias: the TV show, and my exhilaration/frustration with it so far. My wife and I have gotten through the first 5 DVD's of 6 in the first season (meaning we have 2 more whole seasons to go to catch up -- ugh! Or yay!), and I've got some HSO's on it. But today I have 2 other things to get to -- one sportsy, one not. We'll start with the one that is not.

My fax machine at work just busted the heck up yesterday, and I would not have minded, except for the fact that other people kept bugging me about it (I literally never have received a fax there, either for personal or business reasons -- I've sent a couple out, but they were small and useless), coming by and expressing that they just need it. To be fair, they probably do, and as usual it's up to me to fix something that has nothing to do with me other than I happen to be the closest human to it when it breaks. So I look up the tech support documents online and they are clearly not meant to help fix anything but the most basic problems, i.e., a baby stuck in the carriage area and so on. There was nothing there. It just wasn't working, and the message on the screen said, "carrriage jam"-- please open door and remove. There was a lot of stuff inside that thing, but a "carriage jam" describes none of it. It may as well have said "PC load letter". That would have been funnay at least.

To make a long story short, the tech support guy is called and he comes up with the same diagnosis as I, and we have to "set it up for destruction", which is an elaborate ritual we have that equates to the English term "chuck it". I was going to suggest we do like in Office Space, but I did not want to press my luck.

The best part of this story, and the part that makes it interesting enough to put it on a blog (IMO), is the replacement fax/printer/scanner they gave me. It's the cheapest all-in-one we have (retails for $99 new), and it was on clearance because it was returned. It's also the same brand as the one that just broke, and about half as sturdy. Now, I know the reasons why they did this, and they all relate to money. They don't want to invest anything in a good (or even mediocre) fax machine when I will just break 14 months later. But suffice it to say I am skeptical of this rinky-dinky fax/copier meeting the needs of our department. I'm putting the over/under on how long this thing lasts at 3 months. Hopefully I won't be around to find that out.

In other news, I have done the math on the Milwaukee Bucks' remaining schedule, and there is at least some room for optimism. I took the remaining 53 games and divided them into 3 categories: likely wins, likely losses, and toss-ups. I came up with 20 wins, 11 losses, and 22 toss-ups. I did this under the assumption that their early-season death march was due to injuries and going temporarily mental, and that their recent play is more indicative of how they will play from now on. It also assumes TJ Ford is out the rest of the season, because he almost assuredly will be (and THAT'S another blog entry waiting to happen, let me tell you). So, here are the numbers:

current sucky record: 10-19
almost-sure wins left: 20
almost-sure losses left: 11
lowest possible Bucks record: 30-52
highest possible Bucks record: 52-30
median/normal/most likely Bucks record: 41-41
most likely playoff seeding (if the playoffs started today and the other teams' current records continued on into infinity): 8th in East
most likely first-round playoff matchup: Miami (yuck)

I should be enough for Terry Porter to keep his job. Now the big question is: What do they do with Michael Redd? Trade him or keep him? The mind boggles.

SSS (sorry/so/sportsy)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


This is gigantic me. Hey, that's right -- at some point I'll have to discuss Gigantic here.
Don't I look like some sort of internet predator here? Or a garbageman? Or a drug addict? Posted by Hello

Here I am...

Rock you like a hurricane.

I figured out tonight that even though I'm your basic easygoing guy who doesn't see the point in brand-specific shopping, I am a total brand snob when it comes to running shoes.

Back in the day, I was a "runner". I was a skinny high-schooler who ran, as in a few miles on nothing but my feet, just about every day. It was at that time that I investigated and perfected the art of shopping for the so-called running shoes. I knew where I needed the padding, since I was a both toe-and-heel runner with slight toe tendencies. I also have average arches and one foot that's a half size bigger than the other. But mostly, I figured out which brands fit me and which brands don't. I don't like blisters, you see.

So we're in a shoe store today and although I am now (especially post-Christmas cheer) a fat fat man (see next post), I still am a toe-heel runner with toe tendencies. I just need more padding. I've never regretted getting Asics or Saucony. The thing is, the shoe store did not have those brands. I tried on a pair of Nikes (I know they have a chance of fitting me), but the only ones in my price range (sub-$50) that they had in my size (11 1/2) were these ugly gray ones that fit like Public Enemy would fit in the Mormon Tabernacle. So, I left without buying anything, and you'd know how astounding that is if you've ever seen my normal Tactical Vector Method of shopping quickly. So I'm like shoeless Joe, without the corruption.

Gotta go watch Alias now.