Nerd Lunch: The Web Series Update

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I wanted to check in and give everyone an update about where Nerd Lunch: The Web Series stands.

When I first started the series, I went into it with the knowledge that I was hopping in a car and driving straight towards a mountain. But I was hoping that my oscillation over-thruster would kick in and I would drive through the mountain and come out unscathed.

I had hoped to release one a month, January through June. Then we were going to take a break and decide whether or not to return in the Fall. Well, you may have noticed that March has come and just about gone and there is no episode 3 yet.

Without getting too into the specifics of everything, "real life" (positive things though, like new job and schooling) has gotten in the way and has brought about a delay in the production of Nerd Lunch.

So, here's the new plan...

Episode 3 has been shot and will be edited and my hope is to release it in April. We will shoot Episode 4 in May. It will then be out by June. After episode 4, we will take our break and decide whether or not to return in the Fall.

Thanks for all your support thus far. We've had great fun doing it and I can't wait to get back to it.

Conan Critique

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I have not watched every episode of Conan, but I have seen most of the episodes, at least the pre-interview stuff. I'm firmly in the Team Coco camp and felt he should have remained host of The Tonight Show. Losing that gig has definitely changed Conan, the person, making Conan, the show, a slightly different beast than its predecessors. It was easy for everyone to dump on Conan when it first debuted in November and make snap judgments. Now that the show has found some of its footing, I'd like to offer a more thorough critique of the show.

Overall, the issue is that Conan has lost some of his self-confidence. Do a search on YouTube for a clip from the later years of Late Night and compare that Conan to the Conan of the current show. There's quite a difference in the way he carries himself now as compared to then. To fix this main issue, I offer the following suggestions:

1. Andy needs to go.
This pains me to say it, but I think this is the number one problem with the current show. Andy helped Conan through his initial years on NBC and it was a delight to have him back on The Tonight Show. But I think Conan matured as a performer quite a bit after Andy left Late Night. Conan probably thinks he needs Andy for now, but I think he's a crutch that isn't adding much to the show. And I don't really get the impression that Andy wants to be there all that much anyway. Give the announcer gig to warm-up comedian Jimmy Pardo and send Andy on his way to pursue his acting interests again.


2. The monologue needs to be retooled.
I am a fan of Conan's style of monologue jokes. There is a certain formula to it. Usually there are two sentences, the first one a brief summary of a recent news event, the second finishes the story in a farcical way but delivered very straight. (For example: After 60 years of service, the Dali Lama is stepping down as the political leader of Tibet. Apparently he heard there was an opening at Two and Half Men.) However, the real humor isn't in the joke itself, but comes from the ad lib comments and pantomime from Conan afterward.

The problem is that these initial jokes seem to be bombing more and more which doesn't help Conan's self-confidence. Either Conan needs some better monologue writers or he needs to retool the monologue all together. Some of Conan's best bits are his off-the-cuff bits. During the writer's strike, Conan entertained for weeks with no monologue jokes. They're not needed. Time for Conan to break the mold on this and do something better.

3. Bye-bye beard.
The beard represents a time of transition from losing The Tonight Show to defiantly moving on to the tour and eventually cable. Shaving the beard will signify that his time of "mourning" is over and he's ready to get back to being the Conan we all know and love. Conan has mentioned he doesn't plan on keeping the beard long-term, so this is just a matter of time, but I think it is time for it to go now. I wish he had shaved it on the first anniversary of his last Tonight Show episode.

4. Conan needs to be on board more.
Conan doesn't seem to buy into some of the gags anymore. There's a hint of embarrassment when certain silliness happens. The same silliness would happen on his previous shows and he would totally be along for the ride or laugh it off. He is now shaking his head in disbelief at the lunacy. If he doesn't buy it, the audience isn't going to either.

5. More nods to the past.
Letterman's transition from CBS to NBC was different than Conan's transition from NBC to TBS. However, there are several similarities. Conan clearly wants to make the new show something new, but it's hard to throw away 18 years of history. There have been some effective nods to the NBC years on the new show. Letterman worked out a different deal than Conan and was able to take the Top Ten Lists and Stupid Pet Tricks with him. Conan can't do some of the classics, but he seems to be playing it too safe and not poking at NBC enough. Wednesday night's episode had one such nod. More of these would be welcome. (Although, he still needs to be careful not to come across too bitter. It works for Letterman, but wouldn't work for Conan.)

There are some other things I would change, but I won't put them on my list of "essential" changes.

I'm not a huge fan of the set as a whole. With some minor modifications, I could like it better. My big problem is the open scene behind the desk. Not since Leno's first set on his first Tonight Show has there been an open scene like that on a talk show that I can recall. Even on Conan's Tonight Show set, there were glass columns that helped add some structure behind the desk area and framed the shots better. I also don't like that Conan stands in front of his desk during the monologue. I'd rather he stand in front of the curtain or just go sit at the desk, but that's just a preference thing.

The lack of Max Weinberg is missed and can't be helped, but without his presence, the band as a whole is lacking the character it once had. Jimmy Vivino leads the band, yet there is very little interaction with him.

I still enjoy the show and think it will continue to get better and evolve. These are things that could be done soon that I believe would expedite its improvement.

(Not) Netflix Notes 4

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In the past few weeks I have had the good fortune of being able to watch quite a number movies by middle age standards. It seems unlikely that I’ll get around to creating full reviews for the ones that warrant it (sorry, Scott Pilgrim fans), so here are some quick thoughts.

 

Mega PiranhaMega Piranha

Mega Piranha is a SyFy original movie which features 80s pop star Tiffany, Barry “Greg Brady” Williams, and some guy from Days of Our Lives battling giant mutated piranha. Yes, it is as terribly awesome as that one sentence sounds. It’s a great choice for watching with buddies as I did (kudos to Big Dan Greenup for the selection), but would otherwise be best to avoid.

 

Ninja Assassin

I had been told to expect tons of gore and buckets of blood from Ninja Assassin. What I wasn’t expecting was a genuinely interesting plot, some cool action sequences, and Rain’s surprisingly decent performance as the lead character. With the added bonus of the immortal Sho Kosugi as the ninja sensei, Ninja Assassin was a clear winner.

 

JCVD

Weird is the best word to describe JCVD. It is a fictional look into the “real life” of Jean-Claude Van Damme that left me scratching my head. The basic premise is that an out of work Van Damme returns to Belgium after losing custody of his kid and gets taken hostage during a bank robbery. What follows (I think) is an exploration of fame and what it means to be the hero in the real world, though the take home messages are not exactly clear. There’s also a fourth wall shattering, six minute monologue by Van Damme in the middle of the film. Interesting, but as I said, weird.

 

Dolemite is my name.

Dolemite

Dolemite is in my personal holy trinity of blaxploitation movies along with Shaft and Truck Turner. No disrespect meant to Sweet Sweetback, Super Fly, or Blacula. With boom mics visible in every other shot and Rudy Ray Moore’s storytelling sequences, Dolemite is also very clearly one of the inspirations for the modern classic Black Dynamite. Dolemite should be required viewing for anyone who enjoys classic blaxploitation or the more recent tributes.

 

 

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I am squarely in one of the target demographics for this movie and heard effusive praise from trusted sources like The Atomic Geeks, so I fully expected to love Scott Pilgrim. I didn’t. I found it enjoyable and stylistically interesting, but the story never fully clicked for me and the presentation seemed inconsistent. I would still consider it recommended viewing for most nerds, but your mileage may vary significantly even if you have an extensive history with videogames, ex-girlfriends, and garage bands.

 

Knight and Day

Our favorite radio movie reviewer, Nick Digilio, loved this movie when it came out last year, so my wife and I picked up the DVD as some light Friday night fare. It was a perfect popcorn movie and just plain fun. I am not much of a Tom Cruise fan, but he was perfect as the charming, bulletproof secret agent. There was barley a shred of believability to the story, but the performances and charisma of the stars completely sold it.

(Nerd) Lunch Special: Sonic Drive-In's "The Chicago Dog"

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Oh, here we go again. CT is going to talk about Chicago-style Hot Dogs.

Yes, yes...sorry. I recently discovered that the fast food chain Sonic has begun serving "The Chicago Dog." I've said before, I'm desperate for what I can get down here in Tallahassee as far as Chicago-style food is concerned. I learned recently that Giordano's, which has a location in Orlando, is in a bit of financial trouble and my closest Chicago-style pizza place may be going away. Nooooooooo!

Well, all that aside, I'm here to tell you whether this "The Chicago Dog" is worth getting. Look, if you're like me and are hundreds of miles away from a decent Chicago-style hot dog, this is going to look tempting. And I say, go for it. But know that it's not the real deal.

I reviewed the Steak 'n Shake version of the Chicago-style Hot Dog and between the two, I'd say Steak 'n Shake's is better. On the surface, the Sonic version seems like a closer fit, but the problem with it is the relish. It does not have the bright green relish which tastes different than your typical relish.

And it's lacking something else, but I can't figure out what. All the elements seem there, but the whole thing comes off as less than authentic. It was probably a disservice to it that I had relatively recently had Portillo's mailed to me by Jeeg and PLee for my 2010 Christmas present which was a repeat of the gift my (then) newborn son received from them in 2008. Sonic's version didn't have a chance with Portillo's version fresh in my mind.

Would I get this again? Maybe. But it will be a while. I'll have to forget what the good ones taste like before I do.

Two Petes, One Great Show

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pete_and_pete_titleSources (meaning CT) have told this reporter that The Adventures of Pete & Pete will be making its way back to television in a 90s themed block to run on TeenNick this fall. I was a bit older than the target demographic when it originally aired, but Pete & Pete was appointment viewing and VCR worthy programming for me.

 

For the uninitiated, Pete & Pete focuses on two brothers, both named Pete Wrigley. The boys live in the small town of Wellsville which is populated by an oddball cast of characters including local super hero Artie (The Strongest Man in the World), manic school bus driver Stu, variously themed bullies (Hathead, Pitstain, Papercut), and an evil bowling ball amongst others. Adding to the surrealism is the parade of guest stars ranging from Steve Buscemi to Adam West to Iggy Pop to Frank Gifford. As weird as it is, the show is just as well written and hilarious.

 

I encourage everyone who hasn’t seen it to check it out this fall.  Fortunately, a DVR will make that task a lot easier than the juggling of T-160 VHS tapes I had to do in the early 90s. If we’re all lucky this recent publicity and some success in the fall will finally get the folks at Viacom/Paramount/Nickelodeon to release the final season of this great show on DVD.

Tales Never Told: Superman III Redux!

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Back in May of 2002, I quickly wrote this "redo*" of Superman III. Looking back at it now, I'd tweak this further, but I'll leave it alone and present it here as another Tale Never Told!



There were some interesting ideas in the third Superman movie, but the comedic spin on it and the lack of attention to the characters make it a movie that hurts even more than Superman IV because of what it could have been. What should have been an excellent third part of a Superman trilogy, turns out to be a flop.

What follows is how I would outline the third movie if I were writing it now. Some of it is derivative of some story ideas that have happened since Superman III came out. The beauty of it is, if this had happened, it would have been first. Or something.


Alexander Hartley, a farmer just outside of Smallville, stumbles across a red glowing substance while plowing his field. He takes it inside his home.

Lois subconsciously feels awkward around Clark after the events in Superman II. Clark is still trying to get over the choice he had to make and the destruction that was caused to Metropolis in his absence in the last movie. He's tried being Clark Kent and failed so has decided to find himself again in the place where he grew up. He has the opportunity to go back home for his high school reunion. Perry thinks it would make an interesting story and sends Jimmy with him to take pictures even though Clark doesn't want him to come along.

Cut to Ross Webster (I'd rather he not be Robert Vaughn, but he was acceptable enough) beginning work on his ultimate super-computer. He's hired (instead of Richard Pryor's Gus Gorman) a team of engineers and specialists led by Jerome Gorman (I don't know if I would have chosen him at the time, but today I'd choose Carl Lumbly). Their main goal is to create artificial intelligence with the computer. Gorman's main concern with the computer is power. The computer resembles the giant machine seen at the end of the original Superman III, but is located in Metropolis.

Cut back to Clark on the bus ride with Jimmy. Clark decides to cut Jimmy a break and share the by-line with him. He's going to let Jimmy interview him. Here we get some exposition about Clark's past. Jimmy mainly asks questions like "who did you like in high school" or "what kind of student were you." Here, Lana and Brad are brought up.

The bus is stopped by a roadblock with government teams, police, and a HASMAT team. Clark uses his press credentials to find out what is going on. He learns that Alexander Hartley and his family have suffered from radiation poisoning and the teams are trying to figure out what happened. Clark coordinates some confusion by telling Jimmy to grab some pictures while he gets back on the bus. The bus turns around and leaves while Clark is still on it. A minute later, Superman shows up to offer his assistance. Superman is shown this red substance and it causes Superman to get dizzy for a second but that passes quickly. Superman offers Jimmy a flight to Smallville and then takes off. Jimmy runs into Clark and the two head to stay at the old Kent farm.

Cut to Jerome Gorman who reads the write-up in the Daily Planet about the Hartley farm incident. Realizing that just this little piece could have enough energy to kick the computer into high gear, he arranges for the red rock to be stolen.

Clark begins acting a little weird. He's looser and not as nerdy. Jimmy doesn't think much of it, and just attributes it to the return home. They meet up with Lana the next day where the reunion is being set up. Clark, acting much less Clark-like begins pouring on the charm to Lana and the two hit it off. Jimmy continues writing furiously.

The next day, the plans are set to steal the rock. While the rock is being stolen, someone notices and calls for help. Superman shows up only to be exposed to the rock once more. He captures one of the thieves, but the others get away once Superman begins feeling a greater degree of apathy and lets them go.

The next night, at the actual reunion, Brad (Lana's ex-husband) shows up drunk and starts causing problems. He starts a fight with Clark, which Clark finishes and Lana is impressed. But Jimmy on the other hand, begins to suspect something is wrong. He tries to confront Clark with this and Clark brushes him off. "Go home Jimmy. You have the by-line all to yourself. I'm not going back to Metropolis. I'm staying right here." Jimmy begins the trek home, but halfway home, he realizes that there may be even a bigger story here and he's going to find it.

Further progress is made on the super computer. The computer can hack into any computer system and access any information. It begins doing so and starts downloading as much information as possible. Meanwhile, it starts disrupting systems across Metropolis.

Clark begins having hallucinations. He starts looking into the mirror and seeing the darker Superman. The darker Superman tells him that he is superior and the rest of the planet is inferior. The planet is his for the taking. If I could, I'd try and get the actors who played Ma and Pa Kent back and include them in the hallucinations somehow. Make them a part of the struggle that Clark feels.

Back to the super computer, it kills the entire team (including Webster) but excluding Gorman. It takes over Gorman and makes him a part of the computer (similar to what was done in the original version to Vera Ross). This computer, of course, dubs himself "Brainiac."

We get a series of shots similar to the ones already in Superman III where Superman goes nuts and causes problems. He returns to Smallville after every jaunt and as Clark Kent, is unaware of what's going on.

Eventually, in some scene that I would keep very similar to the original version, Clark and Superman fight it out and Clark Kent wins. He realizes that the red rock had something to do with his problem and he tracks it down and finds this Brainiac computer. Being powered by this red-kryptonite, it takes Superman a lot to fight it, but he eventually wins and in doing so, the red-K is rendered inert somehow.

Clark returns to Smallville and meets up with Brad. He gives Brad a speech about how he's sorry that he fought him and that he handled that wrong and hadn't been himself. He asks Brad to watch over the Kent farm while he's in Metropolis and makes some deal with him about staying out of the bottle.

From there, I'd keep the rest of the movie similar. Lana moves to Metropolis, Superman fixes the stuff he messed up, etc. I'd add some scene in there with Jimmy where Clark comes up with some reason for why he was acting strange and convinces Jimmy to run a toned down version of the story in exchange for future shared by-lines. End with Superman flying around the world and into space and run the credits.


Sure the details need work, but that to me makes a much cleaner movie and delves into the character of Superman a little better. Also, now looking back on this, I'd try and make the connection between Brainiac and Superman stronger. Anyway, that's how I'd redo Superman III.



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* For even better versions of the "redo" concept, check out The Atomic Geeks podcast.

(Nerd) Lunch Special: Wendy's Asiago Ranch Chicken Club

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I had the opportunity a few months back to review the new Wendy's Natural Cut Fries and this led to another opportunity to once again review a product for Wendy's. This time they asked me to try their new Asiago Ranch Chicken Club. I chose to get the Homestyle.

The website description for this sandwich goes a little something like this:
These aren't some boring ol' chicken sandwiches. Meet Wendy's Asiago Ranch Chicken Clubs – tender, all-white meat chicken fillets topped with thick-cut Applewood Smoked Bacon, natural-aged Asiago cheese, creamy ranch sauce, hand-leafed lettuce, and hand-chopped tomatoes. Try one of these bold, new clubs in Spicy, Homestyle or Grilled.

I would agree. This was no boring ol' chicken sandwich. However, the chicken fillet seemed different from the last time I got a chicken sandwich and I think I preferred the old version of the fillet better. When I go to Wendy's I usually get burgers, so 1) this change may have occurred a long time ago and I just hadn't noticed and 2) this change doesn't affect me a great deal and I did still like this newer fillet quite a bit.

Based on the pictures in the restaurant, I had expected the fancier bun. I got the regular bun. I think this sandwich could have used the thicker bun, but it was fine as it was.

My other critique would be the ranch sauce. It was a good flavor, but I wish it had been a creamier, thicker ranch sauce instead of what was on the sandwich.

Over all, it was a good combination of flavors. Again, I'm more of a burger guy when it comes to Wendy's, but if I get it again, I'd like to get the Spicy. In fact, I regret not getting it as a Spicy this last time.

Thanks for giving me the chance to try this sandwich, Wendy's!
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