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5 things, in no particular order

1. Dad was right, or how the violinist on the Titanic felt

Once, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I was at the house of a friend of my mom’s. My mom’s friend and several other mothers were in the kitchen complaining about pediatricians. I’m not sure what I was doing, but I remember overhearing their conversation.

“They never listen,” the moms kept saying.

“All they ever tell you is, ‘Give him some Robitussin.'”

“My kid is sick, and I didn’t bring him here for you to tell me something I’ve already done or I already know.”

I remember thinking at the time that I could grow up to be a pediatrician (I loved mine — a rotund man with big, bushy eyebrows), and when I became one, I would always remember these mothers and be a better doctor. A lot of people may remember what dreams they had as children, or what they wanted to be when they grew up. I don’t, but I look back on this memory from time to time and wish I really had wanted to be a doctor. Truth is I never really knew what it was I wanted to be.

My father was never one to romanticize work. He started hounding me about a five-year plan when I was about 13. Accountants always have jobs, he would say. Doctors, engineers, accountants—what else is there? Nothing. He wanted me to be happy, yes, but happiness to him meant security. When other parents were telling their children to follow their dreams, to do what made them happy, dad was telling me that accountants always have jobs, that if I didn’t have a plan for a career right then and there, I would spend my life bouncing from job to job with no stability. He offered people he knew as examples to back up his point.

In college, I majored in English — the only subject that ever inspired me. Upon my graduation, dad told me how proud he was even as he wondered what I would end up doing with my life. As a student, I dreamed of being a writer (still do), and journalism was my practical solution to the question of a regular paycheck. That solution has proven fickle, though. So while hubby and I work on Plans C through Z as the fate of our newspaper (the entire industry, really) hangs in the balance, I find myself in a bit of a philosophical crisis. Was dad right all this time? Would my life be easier now if I’d spent my college years learning to crunch numbers rather than immersing myself in Shakespeare and Louisa May Alcott? At this perilous moment for newspaper journalists across the country, I’m inclined to say that maybe he was right. Just nobody go and tell him I said that.

2. The Librarian is a poor man’s Indy, and yet I love it.

Noah Wyle spent a decade at ER’s County General, and he still looks like he did on that first year, when Dr. Benton was kicking his ass up and down the hospital. That boyish cuteness makes him perfect for the role of Flynn Carter, the Librarian — imagine a more bookish Henry Jones Jr. minus the swagger, the hat and the whip. With the circular glasses he sports now and then, he looks like a grown-up version of Harry Potter.

The TV movies (the third premiered on TNT this weekend) are the perfect balance of action-adventure cheese and fun that you enjoy more than you expect because it’s on TV and it’s free. Also, there is Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin — National Treasure can’t say the same.

3. If Pushing Daisies was canceled, but I refuse to acknowledge it, did it really happen?

I have two episodes on my DVR, ready to watch. I just can’t bring myself to, knowing that I have no more Daisies to look forward to. I’ve seen too many episodes of Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill and The Real World to judge anyone’s TV watching habits, but it’s hard to live in a land in which The Hills and According to Jim are allowed to go on (and on and on and on) and a gem like Daisies has to be cut short.

Upon announcement of the Daisies cancelation, Television Without Pity put together a list of 10 shows that were canceled way too soon. Some of my all-time faves were among them:
Arrested Development: Hilarity, narrated by Ron Howard. Who wouldn’t love that and give it a ten-season order? Dare we hope a movie is on its way?
Deadwood: Fucking brilliance.
Pushing Daisies: Sigh. Too soon.
Veronica Mars: A high school show that even hubby grew to love? Will such a creature ever exist again?
Everwood: Loved, loved, loved. Yes, it should have been allowed to go on, but having been given warning that the end was nigh, the creators ended it perfectly.

4. For the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA draft, (insert Oklahoma Thunder or equally awful team here) take Stephen Curry, Davidson College.

According to Chad Ford, over on ESPN, this may happen. It probably won’t, but the fact that it could amazes me. A lottery pick? From Davidson?

LeBron believes:

5. Happy Dia de las Velitas, everyone!

Yesterday was the Dia de las Velitas in Colombia and in Boise, Idaho, where my mom celebrates with a few hundred of her closest friends. (It started out as her small way to show people one of Colombia’s richest holiday traditions, but the people kept coming and they kept bringing their friends.) I don’t have a lot of memories of this day from my Colombian childhood, but I know that mom loves it. I also remember my grandfather Nono, who got drunk for the very last time on the Dia de las Velitas back in 1995. A few weeks later his one good kidney would fail and a few months later he was gone, to that great big fritanga in the sky, where he could drink whisky and eat arepas like every day was the Dia de las Velitas. To learn more about the holiday (not just what it means to me), go to Wiki.

It’s business time, baby: Getting ready for more Flight of the Conchords

Until hubby and I started living together, I’d never been an HBO subscriber. The extra expense just never seemed worth it. Yes, The Sopranos and Sex and City were all the rage for a while, but with the onset of TV on DVD, all you had to do was wait for them to show up on Netflix. Even then, I never got around to getting into The Sopranos. I did watch enough Sex and the City episodes to get the gist of the story (Carrie meets Big, Carrie loses Big, Carrie moves to Paris, Big rescues Carrie from big, bad Mikhail Baryshnikov, Big’s name is John) and to realize that a show doesn’t have to have a huge audience for the pop culture intelligentsia to deem it a “phenomenon.” Once that happens, you don’t even have to watch it to know what’s going on.

I would have been happy to continue living in this HBO-free world, but hubby needed his Sopranos and his Deadwood and, occasionally, his good HBO original movie like Recount or When the Levees Broke (side note: if you haven’t seen this Spike Lee documentary on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, you must). As a result, unabashed TV addict that I am, I got sucked in. Deadwood, even with all the cocksuckers, was a little bit like Shakespeare. Entourage turned the Sex and the City formula on its head by giving it a Y chromosome and switching coasts (Vince meets stardom, Vince loses stardom, Vince moves to almost has-been status, stardom–in the guise of Martin Scorsese in this week’s season finale–rescues Vince from big, bad obscurity, Turtle’s name is Sal).

The greatest thing to come out of our HBO subscription, though, is Flight of the Conchords, which will begin the long anticipated (at least by me) second season in January. This half-hour comedy about two dim-witted musicians from New Zealand, Jemaine and Bret, trying to make it in New York is hard to categorize.

It’s surprising and absurd and hilarious. Each episode is a slight variation of this: Jemaine and Bret go to see Murray, their manager; Jemaine and Bret go get coffee at the convenience store where their friend Dave works; Jemaine and/or Bret go on a date; Jemaine and Bret have an encounter with superfan/stalker Mel; and sometimes, Jemaine and Bret have an actual gig. These events are interspersed with the best part of every show, when Jemaine and Bret randomly break out into a music video. They’ve spoofed just about every genre of music (David Bowie, synthesized 80s rock, Barry White, even Kevin Bacon’s dancing montage on Footloose), but to call them spoofs isn’t really doing them justice. Spoofs simply poke fun. Jemaine and Bret love music, and their songs are a kind of homage.

The deadpan geek-chic humor is not everyone’s cup of tea, but try watching the video below and tell me it’s not one of the best things you’ve seen all day.

Are you ready for some football? Week umpteenth, Broncos at Falcons

I’m about a half-hour late to the game here because I was playing Spider Solitaire on my computer and on the verge of winning for about 45 minuted before I finally did. My sporadic obsession with Solitaire, which goes back to way before it became a computer-assisted time-suck, will be getting its own post soon. But now we go back to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress: Broncos leading 7-3 nearing the end of the first quarter.

11:30 a.m. – I used to live near Atlanta, about an hour north of the city, in the hamlet of Rome, called that because supposedly it had seven hills just like the original in Italy. I never counted them, just like I never got into the Falcons. The only memory I have of my time in Rome that involves the Falcons was from middle school: These two girls in my class, Kim and Angela, apparently went to a Falcons-49ers game once and later told everyone that they kept their eyes on Joe Montana’s behind the whole time.

11:35 – Last week, the Broncos did marginally better than they had been doing, defeating the Cleveland Browns, who were being led for the first time by Brady Quinn. Today, they face another young, pretty boy quarterback/former Big Man on Catholic Campus in Matt Ryan of Boston College. Ryan, of course, is the “new face” of the Atlanta franchise after the dogfighting fiasco that landed previous quarterback Michael Vick in prison. Vick certainly made his bed, and I don’t feel sympathy for him. Still, part of me does feel like he was made an example of—a nobody in his situation doesn’t get as much press and, as a result, doesn’t get as many years behind bars. Oh, well.

But to what’s actually happening in the game . . .

11:46 – Ryan seems to be decent, but the Falcons aren’t much of a team yet, which means they are actually a threat to beat the Broncos, who tend to underperform against average teams. He’s led a couple of drives, but no TDs so far. Former Bronco Jason Elam is the Falcons’ new kicker and has hit his old team up for 2 field goals. 7-6 Broncos.

11:48 – On the ensuing kick-off, Bronco rookie extraordinaire Eddie Royal has a nice little return to the Falcons 40 yard line.

11:50 – Nothing doing for the Broncos, even with such good field position. They go for the field goal, but kicker Matt Prater—like Elam, playing against his old team—missed a longish one.

11:59 – The Falcons seem to have figured out the Denver defense, which usually doesn’t take much trying. A four-minute drive ends in a 9-yard touchdown run for the Falcons. The D-line might as well have taken that snap off, considering how easily the running back walked into the end zone. And even as I was typing all of that, the offense 3 and outs. Ho hum. 13-7 Falcons.

12:16 – After controlling the clock for a while with what seemed like a long promising drive, the Falcons punt. Less than a minute to go in the half, though, so we’ll see if the Broncos can get some quick points on offense.

12:23 – Not only do the Broncos not do anything on offense, they don’t even manage to run out the clock, so the Atlanta gets 10 seconds to try to do something. Except they don’t. Ryan takes a knee, and we go to halftime.

Halftime thoughts: The game is on CBS, the land of the police procedural. I can’t think of a single show I’ve ever watched on this network. I’m sure there has been at least one, but I can’t think of any right now. I’m just not a cop show person, at least not the rote, one crazy murderer per week kind. Funny thing, though, Criminal Minds and CSI are exactly where people who can’t seem to get work elsewhere end up. Julia Ormond as guest star? Didn’t she used to be in good movies?

More halftime thoughts: Why does it take six people to call the halftime highlights? I like The Blitz on ESPN because it’s just Chris Berman and Tom Jackson. One runs the show, the other offers expertise. Why does every retiring NFL coach or player get an offer to be a studio commentator? Most of them are terrible.

Final halftime thoughts: I’ve also been following college football this year. The UNC Tar Heels have been having a decent run this year, but yesterday they lost to Maryland and though they will probably be bowl-game bound, their BCS hopes are no more. I guess it’s appropriate that it happened on the first day of the basketball team’s reagular season. Now, everyone can turn their attention to the team we’re all more interested in anyway.

12:45 – Touchdown Broncos! They sustain a nice long drive, and just when it seemed like they couldn’t close at the goal line, Cutler tosses the ball to Peyton Hillis behind him who manages to run it in by running around the linemen, rather than through them. Extra point is good! 14-13 Broncos.

Random sidenote: I like how Cutler wears his cap backward when he’s not on the field (and it’s not cold enough for a tobogan). Elway would never do that.

12:58 – Interception! Falcons are working the ball upfield until Ryan drops back about 20 yards them heaves it up, I guess thinking he didn’t want the massive loss if he got sacked. Dre Bly picks it off at about the Broncos 40 yard line. Hubby liked that play.

1:01 – Cutler passes it to Marshall on his left. Marshall then proceeds to run across the field to the right sideline—but he does manage to get a first down in the process. Hubby does not like it when Marshall does this. Most of the time Marshall ends up losing ground, but he seems to get away with it often enough that he keeps trying it.

1:03 – Pass interference call. This is against the Falcons though, so the call doesn’t give me a headache, like usual. First and goal for the Broncos.

1:08 – Field goal! Broncos can’t run it in, so Prater kicks it in for three. 17-13 Broncos.

1:20 – Commentators point out that the Broncos defense is actually doing well against the Falcons’ run game today, having given up only 85 yards on the ground when their season average is 180. I wonder why, if this is true, the Broncos are only winning by 4, and then Ryan passes for another first down and I have my answer. Also, the game isn’t over yet.

1:23 – And, wouldn’t you know, I was totally right. Falcons running back Michael Turner runs for 28 yards and a touchdown. I guess that means the Broncos have now given up 113 yards on the run. Also, the game isn’t over yet. 20-17 Falcons.

1:28 – After two fruitless plays, Cutler throws deep to Brandon Marshall for 57 yards. I wasn’t expecting a big play like that, but it seems to have woken up the Broncos a bit. They get a few more first downs, but one is called back for a penalty. Curses!

1:31- On 2nd and 12, Hillis makes another amazing play. He catches the ball again right at the sideline and tiptoes—literaly—his way to a first down before gravity finally pulls him out of bounds. That was awesome. Another 1st and goal. Can they break through this time. Field goal would only tie.

1:34 – Touchdown Broncos! Cutler avoids pressure and throws it in to Daniel Graham, who catches it on his knees. 24-20 Broncos.

With the extra point the Falcons need a touchdown, not a field goal to win it. They have five minutes and three timeouts, which is an eternity in this game. Hubby is not optimistic about the Bronco defense’s chances. If the Falcons do score, will they leave enough time for the Broncos to try to counter?

1:41 – Twice the Broncos almost intercept Matt Ryan. Twice Ryan answers with passes for first downs. The last almost interception was “the game,” Hubby says. Isn’t it frustrating how, after a good defensive play, the other team gets a first down anyway. Third downs are the Bronco defense’s Achilles heel.

1:47 – On 3rd and very long, Ryan heaves it to his receiver in the end zone. The Broncos defender, already beat, loses his balance and falls, but lucky for him, the Falcon receiver drops the ball and what would have been a touch down. Fourth and long now. No choice for the Falcons but to go for it. This is not when the Broncos usually shine.

1:50 – IN-COM-PLETE! Falcons out on downs. Less than a minute to go, but the Falcons have two timeouts left, so no taking a knee quite yet.

Broncos get close to a first down, which would ice the game, so the powers that be review.

Commentators point out that Spencer Larsen played both ways for the Broncos. That’s pretty insane, but if the Texas State Fightin’ Armadillos can do it, anyone can do it.

1:56 – Broncos short of the first down, but Tatum Bell gets it on the next play and game over.

Final thoughts: None, but for shits and giggles, here’s a clip of the UNC Tar Heels against the Penn Quakers on Saturday, displaying all they are known for. A big lead, fastbreak points and spotty defense. Go Heels!

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Woody Allen goes bilingual

As Woody Allen’s latest movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, opens, an omniscient narrator pulls us into the world of its two female protagonists as they land in the Spanish city where they will spend their summer, the last before the prudent and practical Vicky gets married and yet another in which her best friend and polar opposite in all things love, Cristina, tries to find herself.

The detached and dispassionate voice is almost like a self-guided tour recording at a museum of anthropology, where the prime exhibit is not some aboriginal people from a far off place but the wealthy and their self-indulgent, wine-fueled frivolities during one summer mixing with the locals abroad. This is not to say that Allen’s movie has no heart. In fact, by the end of the movie, it’s hard not to care at least a little about these two young women, whose attitudes at the start of the movie (Vicky confident in her choice to embrace the marital conventions of her class and Vicky confident, but also a bit neurotic, in her choice to reject them) crumble and reconstruct.

The story goes something like this: Vicky and Cristina (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, respectively) arrive in Barcelona and settle into Vicky’s aunt’s lavish house there for a couple of months before Vicky’s big wedding to her fiance, Doug, a boring and generically wealthy WASP who is everything Vicky has always wanted. Vicky is in Barcelona to complete her master’s in Catalan identity. (Useless, you say? Sure, but one look at her ring and you know she’s never going to work a day in her life.) Christina, having just finished directing, writing and acting in a 12-minute film on the subject of love, is worried about what will come next for her. Very much unlike Vicky, whose whole life lays neatly mapped out before her, Cristina is itching for her next adventure to point her in any direction. That adventure presents itself in the form of Juan Antonio, a bohemian painter brought to bright life by Javier Bardem, who dips his toe in sexually liberated European cliche just enough to amuse but not offend. Upon first meeting them, he offers to bed Vicky and Cristina at the same time but eventually seduces them separately, pushing both into the search of self that is the crux of the story.

Vicky, having tasted a form of passion she had not yet known, suddenly questions everything about her life and her choices. Cristina, seduced not just by Juan Antonio’s sexuality but by her desire to be a kind of muse for him, falls so deep into his world that she becomes embroiled in his relationship with his volatile ex-wife Maria Elena, who eventually pushes Cristina into finding the creative outlet she long has sought. Penelope Cruz, as Maria Elena, bursts off the screen and onto the story with raw outward energy. Even in her best performances (Volver and All about My Mother, both at the hands of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar), Cruz is a small, pixie-like presence onto which a story projects itself. Here, she is the catalyst, the smallest of the major roles in the film but also, in a way, the biggest and, in a story about women in search of themselves, the most intriguing. Maria Elena is, by far, Cruz’s best work in an English-language movie, mixing the guttural power of her native tongue and the vulnerability of the act of translation.

Allen bridges the languages and the cultures quite beautifully. His insight in this particular story feels a little reminiscent of Edith Wharton, another consummate New Yorker whose subject of choice was the city’s well-to-do and that set’s various travails in love and marriage. She would have had much to say about the likes of Vicky and Cristina back in her day. A century later, New Yorkers are still taking their neuroses to the continent for the summer. Now, though, the Spaniards get a word in edgewise.

Monday Night Football Preview: Can the Broncos pile on?

Earlier this year, when the New England Patriots came up short in their quest to win the Super Bowl and finish their season undefeated, a friend from Rhode Island who cheers for all things New England, had a very Zen-like attitude about the loss.

On top of the three Super Bowls the Patriots had won in recent memory, the Red Sox had just won the World Series, their second in four years. (The Celtics also were in the middle of their best year in decades and would go on to win the NBA championship.) Even the greediest of sports fans had to admit that the bottom was going to fall out of that run and soon, so why not just look back and enjoy?

Well, after making everyone think they were going to come back from the brink of elimination to win back-to-back World Series, the Red Sox finally capitulated to the Tampa Bay Rays for the last time to the delight of Red Sox Nation haters (the hubby included). The Rays got the better of the Sox all season, but for some reason, with each Rays loss in October, the sports pundits would proclaim that the fat lady had finally sung on their improbable season and that the Sox were finally stepping up to take the title that had been their the year before. Thus, it was amusing to see the Rays prove once and for all, they were the better team this year.

I’ll write more on them and the World Series later this week, but this morning is about football because tonight is about football. The Patriots, after losing the Super Bowl and their star quarterback, are unlikely to get back to their usual perch atop football’s hierarchy. The Broncos, like every other team on the Patriots’ schedule, would like to take advantage of this. And to do so on the night after the Sox were eliminated? Gravy. The Broncos have their own issues, though. After what seemed like a promising start against the Raiders and Chargers, are once again teetering on the edge of mediocrity. The offense is good, to be sure, but injuries have affected output and the defense hasn’t offered much in way of, well, defense. The Patriots may be ripe for the picking, but so are the Broncos.

Also, this will be my first live-blog of Monday Night Football on ESPN, so we’ll see how much better the commercials are on cable. For now, enjoy what’s my new favorite Nike football spot:

Are you ready for some football? Week 5: no game in particular

The Broncos are back at (Invesco Field at) Mile High ready to bounce back from their big loss to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs last week. Unfortunately for me, though, I am working this afternoon, so I won’t be able to live-blog the game. I thought about live-blogging an 11 a.m. game this morning or Monday Night Football, but honestly, I just didn’t want to bother. I do not yet enjoy watching football enough to watch a game not involving the team I root for just for the sake of watching football. I probably won’t be blogging next week’s game either because it’s my first wedding anniversary and the hubby and I are getting out of dodge for the weekend. So I guess this whole live-blogging a game every weekend project is not exactly a success. I will be live-blogging more games this season, but since it’s not likely to happen for another couple of weeks, I’m focusing my football post this week on what I’ve learned so far.

  • Lesson 1: You’re only as good as your commercials

Broncos QB Jay Cutler looks to have a break-out season, with some impressive numbers in four games. But to be a true marquee quarterback in the NFL, it’s not enough to be good.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may be good, but who is he without Jessica Simpson? I’m not saying the marginally talented singer adds luster to Romo’s star — in fact, her overzealous fanhood has proven a bit of an embarrassment. Still, she name-drops him at every interview, which means Romo’s name is guaranteed to appear in at least one gossip rag a week, which means a lot of people who don’t watch football know who he is, which means ka-ching! Endorsements go to people who are famous outside of their niche. He is, thanks to Jessica.

Now, Cutler has dipped his toe into the endorsement pool this year with a commercial with McDonald’s. I don’t know how I feel about a diabetic promoting fast food, but it’s a start. Cutler doesn’t exactly have the looks of a Romo or Tom Brady, but the same problem hasn’t stopped Peyton Manning. The sky is the limit at this point. But I guess Cutler does need to win a playoff game first. So if SNL has to wait, at least he’s on PTI:

  • Lesson 2: Bad teams always have a chance against good ones

The Broncos ran into this one last week. As a fan of college sports, I knew it was true at that level, but pro-sports are a bit different. In college, you don’t get paid. Good college athletes on bad teams often only have a single thing to play for: pride. It’s a powerful motivator. Pro-athletes, on the other hand, even the ones who aren’t millionaires, even the ones on bad teams, are still making a nice paycheck. But I guess that when everyone assumes you’re going to fold, it’s still nice to prove them wrong.

  • Lesson 3: There are more things to do in Miami than in Detroit

As I type, the hubby and I are watching the Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers battle it out in Miami. Dolphins Stadium looks barely half full. Hubby says it’s because the Dolphins suck, but it had been my impression that all football teams, even the bad ones, always sell out. I remember watching the Bears (I think) play at the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day last year, and even given how perennially bad the Lions are, the stadium was full to the brim with people. So even if it’s true that more people will go watch a bad football team than will go watch a bad baseball team, in the case of this particular comparison, Detroit and Miami, people who live in Miami might have more entertainment options than a football game. Certainly, they have better weather, especially later in the season.

  • Lesson 4: Announcers and studio commentators love the word “touches,” as in “Tomlinson needs to get more touches.”

This foray into football has opened me up to a whole new array of hilariously meaningless sports lingo. College basketball has “athletic,” baseball has the three-dozen ways to refer to a home-run and football, it seems, has “touches.” The word refers to the number of times non-quarterback offensive players get the ball. The Charger offense, for example, is more effective when LaDanian Tomlinson gets enough touches. The Broncos seem to be putting a lot of trust in rookie Eddie Royal and are giving him a lot of touches. Dallas Cowboy Terrell Owens is unhappy with his touches. Basically, like all sports jargon it’s an announcer-ish way of saying something that may be said much more clearly and succinctly if you just say what you mean: The Chargers need to give Tomlinson the ball, the Broncos trust Royal with the ball and T.O. is a diva.

  • Lesson 5: I have a soft spot for safeties

Well, not just safeties, but defensive players in general. (I chose safeties in the headline here for the alliteration. I’m a dork.) Here’s the thing: Defensive players don’t get any attention. Quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs get it all. How do I know this? Because those were the only three positions I could name before I actually started paying attention to football. (I knew what kickers did too, but that’s kind of self-evident.) Defensive players do at least half of the work and get very few chances to shine as individuals — even in fantasy football, “owners” draft offensive players individually and defenses as a unit. If you look at all the football announcers and commentators out there, a disproportionate number of them are quarterbacks. Nearly all of them are offensive players.

Recently, longtime Broncos safety John Lynch was released and is now weighing his prospects for the future. I, for one, hope he builds a fiefdom here in Denver to rival Elway’s.

Pushing Daisies, a beginner’s guide

Pushing Daisies is like no other show on television. That statement may sound like an exaggeration and, certainly, it is said rather often about lots of shows. In this case, though, it’s true. Nothing else on television captures the humor, romance, weirdness and — there’s no other word for it — whimsy, that Pushing Daisies brings to life. It’s a bright, technicolor-on-steroids world in which the main trio of characters — Ned, Emerson and Chuck — solve murders on a weekly basis thanks to Ned’s ability to bring people back from the dead and ask them whodunit. Also, Ned and Chuck (a girl, Charlotte Charles is her full name) are in love, but they can’t ever touch each other.

That’s just the beginning. Creator Bryan Fuller and director Barry Sonenfeld have created a marvelous world full of vivid characters and stories, and the talented cast led by the darling Lee Pace as Ned brings performances full of nuance and humanity. The setting is a cartoon, but it’s filled with real people.

Pushing Daisies isn’t a huge hit. And it would be fair to say it’s not for everybody. The whimsy, in some eyes, may be too much schmaltz, too much cutesy. Still, it’s great television, and I implore anyone interested in great television to watch it. We need the ratings, people!

I recently recommended the show to two friends, but even though it’s a murder-of-the-week procedural, there’s a lot of back story that can make getting into it in the second season a bit daunting. If you don’t have time to watch the first season on DVD (though it’s short), here’s a handy Pushing Daisies guide for newbies on the characters and quirks of the show.

The facts of the case are these: (The narrator, Jim Dale, who also narrates the Harry Potter books on tape, uses this phrase a lot.)

  • First, the whys and wherefores of Ned’s power

Ned, “The Piemaker,” as the narrator likes to call him, can bring someone back from the dead by touching the person once. If he touches the person again, he or she goes back to being dead and stays dead (even Ned’s touch can’t revive the person again a second time). If Ned revives someone and doesn’t touch the person again within a minute, someone else in the vicinity will die.

  • Second, the story of Ned and Chuck
Ned and Chuck were neighbors growing up and were each other’s first kiss.

Ned discovered his power to bring living things back to life after his dog, Digby, was hit by a truck. He revived Digby and hasn’t touched him since — instead, he uses a wooden hand to pet Digby. Ned doesn’t learn until later the someone-else-dies-after-a-minute condition to his ability.

When Ned’s mother falls off a chair in the family’s kitchen and dies, he revives her. Unbeknownst to him, however, Chuck’s dad, who happened to be outside his house at that moment, falls over dead a minute later. Ned’s mother dies for good that night when she gives Ned a kiss goodnight. When Ned sees Chuck grieving for her dad, he realizes what he has done. Ned’s dad sends Ned away to boarding school, and when Ned returns home, he finds that his dad has moved away, never to return.

Meanwhile (another favorite word of the narrator), Chuck is left parentless. Her mother died at birth, we are told, so Chuck is raised by her eccentric cheese-loving aunts, Vivian and Lilly (played fantastically by Ellen Green and Swoosie Kurtz, respectively). Random fact: In their house the refrigerator is called the cheese box. Vivian and Lilly lead a very sheltered life, and they shelter Chuck, too. Young Ned and Chuck don’t see each other again for a long time.

  • Third, how our heroes came together

Ned grows up to become The Piemaker, in honor of his mother, who also made pies. He runs a restaurant called The Piehole, and for pie filling, he touches dead (i.e. rotten) fruit and brings it back to life. He also meets and becomes partners with Emerson, a private eye who discovers Ned’s power and wants to use it to make money. Chuck, for her part, finally gets a chance to break free from the bubble her aunts live in and and goes on vacation. But someone kills her!

There’s a reward out for information on Chuck’s death, and looking into it is how Ned and Emerson discover Chuck in her coffin at the funeral home. Ned revives her and, realizing that he still loves her, decides not to touch her again so she can live (one of the undertakers dies in her place). Thus the show bring us the ultimate in unrequited love: two lovers who can’t ever touch each other.

Ned blames himself for Chuck’s father’s death and is afraid to admit this much to her, even years later, because it left her so heartbroken. They are temporarily estranged when she does find out, toward the end of the first season, but they eventually reconcile.

  • Fourth, and then there’s Olive
Olive, played by the supremely talented bundle of perky Kristin Chenoweth, is a waitress at Ned’s restaurant who happens to be in love with Ned. As soon as Chuck moves in with Ned, post-revival, Olive, who also lives next door to Ned, knows something is “off.” Eventually, though she doesn’t know about Ned’s power, she discovers that Chuck is supposed to be dead and assumes Chuck faked her death for some reason. She is jealous of Chuck and Ned’s relationship, but nevertheless, Olive helps Chuck keep her new life secret from her aunts, who think she is dead, and helps Chuck connect with them by delivering pies Chuck bakes for them. During one of these visits to the aunts, Olive inadvertently discovers that Lilly is not really Chuck’s aunt but her mother, which Chuck, of course, doesn’t know.
That’s where the show stands right now. If you missed this week’s season premiere (which dropped the hint that Ned’s father has finally returned), you can watch it online at abc.com. The questions to be pondered are these: Will Olive continue to keep Chuck’s secret from Lilly and Lilly’s secret from Chuck? What will Ned do about his father when he appears? Will Chi McBride continue to be hilarious as Emerson, whose long lost daughter also may be making an appearance? Will Lee Pace and Anna Friel continue to be too cute for words and have more chemistry that most couples on TV without ever touching?

I leave you with a minute of what makes this show awesome:

“Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.” (Paul Newman, 1925-2008)

I love old movies (and by old I mean anything made before I was born). I didn’t really discover the classics until one summer during my college years, when the American Film Institute came out with its top 100 movies of all time. To be a true film geek, I realized, I needed to get to the video rental store — pronto.

Of the ones I remember watching that summer (my memory isn’t always reliable) were Casablanca (liked), The Godfather I and II (loved), The Philadelphia Story (loved) and Cool Hand Luke (LOVED). The latter starred Paul Newman, who died early this morning. Hollywood has produced few true movie stars, even fewer have been around as long as Newman was or created as many memorable characters. The thing that stands out most to me, though, is the life he led when he wasn’t making movies. He lived with his wife, Joanne Woodward, in Connecticut, dedicating himself to philanthropy and progressive causes. It’s a formula for stardom that some actors today, such as Brad Pitt and George Clooney, have tried to emulate, but neither they, nor anybody will ever do it with such grace and dignity.

His grocery store products, Newman’s Own, started out as a bit of a lark but have since provided tens of millions of dollars in funds for charities, including the Hole in the Wall Gang camps for sick children. I first heard of the camps not through People magazine, where many of today’s “stars” like to remind us of all the good they do, but through a close friend whose late brother attended one of the camps while suffering from cancer. Her family has maintained a close association with Hole in the Wall as a way to keep his memory alive. For them, I buy Newman’s Own stuff too.

So tonight, if you don’t have plans, curl up on the couch with a package of Fig Newmans and watch Cool Hand Luke or another one of his classics. There certainly are plenty to choose from.

Live-blogging odds and ends

I missed Monday Night Football between the Chargers and the Jets (the Chargers won handily), so I guess that means I can’t miss any more games — one bye week per season, after all. The good news is that in my effort to forge myself into an NFL fan, I haven’t yet sunk to the level of rearranging my schedule for the sake of football-watching.

Still, another event this week, one of greater import, is just dying to be live-blogged: the first presidential debate, the start of the final stage of this interminable election cycle that feels as if it started before I was born.

I am a registered Independent who picked her pony in this race waaaaay back in February. It’s unlikely anything will change my mind at this point so I could just skip the whole thing for the sake of my blood pressure. Still, debates are such elaborate exercises in political theatrics, they are hard to ignore and even harder not to mock, especially if Anderson Cooper and Campbell Brown are involved.

This one, with a focus on foreign policy and national security, will be moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS, which means there might actually be some substantive, intelligent questions. The hubby and I will have alcohol on hand and will drink for every mention of “change” or “when I was a POW.”

By the end of the night, surely drunk, I’ll probably still be wishing they all went something like this . . .

Headlines don’t sell papes. Newsies sell papes.

So I was just saying how ESPN and the Food Network are where I usually land when surfing the tube during the day. Well, every so often there is a gem to be found on one of the movies channels, and it turns out today was just such a day. NEWSIES IS ON!

Christian Bale may be The Dark Knight and all, but for many, many middle school girls in the early ’90s (or me, at least), he was Jack Kelly. I don’t remember the number of sleepovers for which this movie was the marquee entertainment. There was much talk about their fake (except for Max Casella’s) New York accents. I do remember one night that featured the twin billing of Newsies and Swing Kids, also starring Christian Bale and thinking-school-girl dreamboat Robert Sean Leonard. In that one, though, Christian’s character — SPOILER ALERT! — joins the Nazis. Singing about the lousy lot of wee newspapers employees is much more fun.

Ain’t it a fine life,
Carrying the banner through it all?
A mighty fine life,
Carrying the banner tough and tall.

It’s not what you’d call an excellent film, but it does have its charms. The music is by Alan Menken, who composed all those other Oscar-winning songs for Disney’s animated movies. The choreography, which is really fun to watch, is by the man who would later birth Disney’s latest craze, High School Musical. Though the material may not be as good as what he’s doing now, Christian Bale was no less an actor back then. HSM’s Zac Efron and his crazy man-bangs have absolutely nothing on him.

Watching it now as an adult, especially as a newspaper employee, it’s funny to think that even in fictionalized history, the plight of journalists always was about the little guy against the suits upstairs, that the industry was in trouble, the publishers hungry for more profits, even 100 years ago.

The World will know, and The Journal too.
Mr. Hearst and Pulitzer have we got news for you.

It’s also funny to see that a corporate giant like Disney would create what is basically pro-union propaganda. In light of the writers’ guild strike earlier this year, and the threat of one by the acting unions, it’s hard to imagine any major studio green-lighting a such a tract.

This is for kids shinin’ shoes in the street
with no shoes on their feet everyday.
This is for guys sweatin’ blood in the shops
while the bosses and cops look away.
This is to even the score.
This ain’t just Newsies no more
This ain’t just kids for some pie in the sky.
This is do it or die.
This is WAR!

I wonder if any of the Hollywood strikers psyched themselves up for their picket walks with these fightin’ words.

Labor politics aside, though. At the end of the day, it’s just a silly movie musical with cute boys singing. And I’m still that silly 14-year-old girl singing along.