Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Television

Chasing Lost’s Wild Geese

I don’t think any other show taps the potential of the Internet as well as Lost does, by intentionally sending its viewers on these wild goose chases to learn ancient and modern theories and philosophy in the service of trying to figure out what’s happening on a television show. Shoot, Lost is the only reason I read Flannery O’Connor, which means Lost is the only reason I’ve argued with Mik about Flannery O’Connor, and thus is the only reason I’ve read emails Mary Gaitskill sent to Mik about Flannery O’Connor, and is thus the only reason I’ve then re-read Flannery O’Connor to see how my interpretations match with Mik’s and Mary Gaitskill’s interpretations of Flannery O’Connor. Pushing it further, Lost is the only reason I mentioned Flannery O’Connor to my former roommate James, who said she was his favorite author. And all that is based on three seconds of screentime last spring. I’m not a nut to figure out what everything “means” on Lost, because I know full well that if you’re trying to “solve” it through hidden clues UR DOIN IT RONG, but I was without a book to read at the time, saw Jacob reading a F O’C joint, and bought it. Now I know enough to hold my own in a conversation with serious English Literature hedz. Thanks for jumping out that window, John Locke. Keep plucking that chicken.

If you want to read some good recaps—and Lost is the one show where the recap is, if not crucial, certainly helpful for you to get to whatever level of understanding you desire (even if it intentionally slows your roll)—go here or here or here.

Into Thin Air

UPDATES: About 20 minutes after I posted this, I was sent the Balloon Boy Game. I know what I’m doing all morning. And then there’s this, which is just awesome—the Balloon Boy adventure as the Fresh Prince song, in Facebook comments. h/t TA.

The Balloon Boy story didn’t make sense from the beginning.

“URGENT,” a tweet from the Europe-based Breaking News Online blared over my Tweetdeck, “Six-year-old stuck in a hot air balloon near Denver.”

I wasn’t sure how that was urgent, to me, sitting at my computer in New York. Still, I pointed my browser over to CNN.com, where I saw a photo of the UFO-like spycraft floating east across Colorado. The whole thing sounded horrifying: a six-year-old kid had gotten into the inflated apparatus, unhitched it from the Earth, and had flown away? It sounded like a tragedy, or at least TV movie, in the making.

Doubt started to creep in when I heard the TV newsers describe the dirigible. I alternatingly heard that the compartment in which 6-year-old Falcon was stuck was made of “thin plywood” and then “cardboard,” leading the TV announcers to speculate that “he may have fallen out.” I came to a different conclusion: if the cab was that flimsy, how would the thing take off in the first place? Wouldn’t he just fall out the bottom?

But no. His brother had seen him elevate, flying far, far away. The ship kept going, and police needed to find a way to stop it.

I took an informal poll on Twitter, searching for solutions to a problem that sounds like something you’d hear at a job interview for a consulting agency. A six-year-old is stuck inside of a helium balloon. It will explode if ignited, and if it lands too hard, he will die. How do you save him? Responses included a net, a harpoon, and a Patriot Missile (that one was helpful). I thought that if a helicopter could get above the balloon, and match its speed of roughly 30 miles per hour, they could drop light weights on it and gradually bring it toward the ground.

Not a perfect solution, I know. But it was something.

As the drama unfolded, we learned more about the family. They were featured on ABC’s Wife Swap twice, the premise of which is that you’re a crazy family that will do anything for money. Why is it okay that America’s most family-focused network features a show that is directly inspired by ’70s-style key parties, and no one seems bothered by this? Of course, maybe a wife swap would have helped in this case, because maybe a replacement spouse would have pointed out the folly of keeping an INFLATED HELIUM BALLOON LOOSELY TIED UP IN THE YARD WITH A CABIN BIG ENOUGH FOR A SIX-YEAR-OLD.

But I digress.

Soon enough, the balloon crashed in a dirt field. Cops and paramedics were on the scene in no time, and found no kid. He wasn’t there, and they soon devised an alternate theory: Falcon hadn’t flown at all, and would reveal himself soon enough. This is, of course, exactly what happened. Within a couple hours, he was found in the attic of his house, napping through the drama. He was the one who had the good sense not to watch. We could learn something.

On Larry King Live last night, Falcon inadvertently put his dad in an odd position when he said that he had been instructed to do something “for the show.” Dad got defensive and tried to explain it away. Cops are now looking into the whole episode as a hoax, but what does it matter? The damage has been done. That’s two hours of my life I’m not getting back and frankly, I’m glad the kid’s okay, physically speaking. Psychologically, who knows. Maybe this was just a huge accident, and his parents are just as down-to-Earth as the rest of us and have an explanation for everything. I’d just be surprised if it wasn’t flimsier than cardboard.

The MLB Playoffs: Who Cares What FOX Wants?

One of my pet peeves kicks into high gear every October with the baseball playoffs, which invariably pit a few teams from large markets like New York, Boston and Los Angeles versus teams from smaller markets like Minnesota, Oakland and St. Louis. The conversation will go something like this:

ME: “Who do you think is going to make the World Series?”

YOU: “Well, FOX wants Yankees/Dodgers, I’m sure.”

I’m not sure there’s ever been a less interesting line of logic than this, but it seems to have invaded our national sports-watching culture. We’re constantly intrigued by what series will get the highest ratings, to the point that we’ve substituted this type of thinking for our own. I’m not saying that these observations are wrong; to say that FOX (yes, the network spells its name in all CAPITAL LETTERS, just to make the point) would prefer higher ratings to lower ones is probably not going to far out on a limb. It’s the implication that bothers me. If you’re concerned enough about what the networks want to speak it aloud, you probably want it too, and there’s a strong chance you won’t watch a Twins/Cardinals game.

I’m not telling you what to watch. But as Jerry Seinfeld famously said, we’re rooting for laundry out there. What does it matter where that laundry is washed and folded?

Recently, there’s been an attack on subjective baseball terminology by the more statistically religious members of baseball’s enormous fanbase. Words like “clutch” and “heart” should not be applied, they say, because they cannot be measured. Baseball analysts should stick with what is known, like batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. These things exist, they say. These measurements provide the framework for the game that is going to be played, and they are just as quantifiable as the size of cities.

The bigger the city, of course, the bigger the television market. The bigger the market, the more money the team has coming in. The more money the team has coming in, the better the players they’re able to sign. If you spend your money well, every extra half-million people probably nets you at least one more win a year. In markets like New York and L.A., those wins will add up quickly.

If the stat guys are right (and by and large, I believe they are), the playing field is fundamentally unfair. How is a team like the Cleveland Indians supposed to compete year in and year out? The last two A.L. Cy Young winners came from the Tribe, and this year they’ll both start game one of the Championship Series—CC Sabathia for the Yankees, Cliff Lee for the Phillies. They had to leave Cleveland because the Indians could no longer afford them.

If the stat guys are wrong, then who cares what FOX would ever want? If the game was based on as-yet ummeasurable quantities, the best series—from a pure baseball perspective—would include teams who were the best at… well, whatever. But certainly not just almanac-busting.

The truth is, baseball follows the stats on a macro level, but not a micro level, which is why anything can happen in the playoffs, and why the Yankees haven’t won in nearly a decade. The stat guys call this “luck”—I think it’s something more akin to the magic of the game. Things happen in October that defy logic, reason and stats, but I’m not willing to call it a fluke. There’s one goal every year: to win the World Series. FOX may want the teams from the biggest markets, but you should want the ones with the winners. Baseball is hard enough that you should stand in awe of anyone who makes it. And most importantly, you should watch.

The End of Letterman?

Last night, I wondered aloud whether this could be the end of David Letterman. I was quickly and forcefully admonished, but I still wonder. I certainly don’t think he’s going to get forced out, or face any external pressure to quit, but is there a chance he just up and walks away?

At first, the idea seems ridiculous. In light of his sleeping-with-interns scandal, he’s continuing the show, putting a lemon-faced smile every night. He beat the tabloids to the punch by admitting to everything he has been accused of, and has turned the show inward into one big joke about himself.

There he was, last night, pretending to be a yokel low-level news reporter. There he was, letting Vince Vaughn run roughshod over the show. The audience loved it of course: the scandal, in a perverse way, plays to Letterman’s self-deprecating ways; and everyone loves a free-verse Vaughn. He was the perfect guest for an awkward time, so on-the-nose that you can bet Letterman’s superiors are far more impressed with the host’s ratings than they are worried about his behavior.

I’m not judging the behavior. To my mind, now that he’s admitted it, he has exactly one person to answer to: his wife, Regina. And that’s why I can’t help but think this could be the beginning of the end.

Look at it this way: what would Letterman have to do at this point to get fired? It’s not that this incident was so bad—or really, in a grand scheme, bad at all—that I’m trying to paint Letterman as a criminal in varying shades of gray, but it would take a serious, serious incident to force CBS to take Dave off the air. This doesn’t even register to the network, the scandal equivalent of a monologue joke that falls flat, except you can see them thinking, “Move along, and yes, there’s plenty to see here, every night at 11:30!

I just wonder when Dave will tire of this. Late-night television is such a peculiar genre that only two people have ever really been master class performers. Letterman has, by and large, lived by his own rules, and his own internal compass has guided him to this point—that’s why, as New York Magazine’s cover story from about a month ago read, he never had to grow up. When the world indulges you, that’s the world’s problem.

But Dave did grow up, and got married, and kept showing up. His show evolved from the hip, outsider space to the seat of the winking insider. No longer uncomfortable with being late-night royalty, he embraced it in his endearing, sourpuss way. He had a child. He got married. As the article cites, he finally grew up.

Right now, Dave is doing the grown-up thing by working through the problem, continuing to perform while struggling at home. That’s commendable, but the truth is David Letterman isn’t like any of us. He doesn’t need to work for the money, and I suspect he doesn’t need it for some deep personal fulfillment anymore. That time has passed. He works because he enjoys it, having reached a point where it’s no more complicated than that. It took a while to get here, but he got here.

So my question is: what if he decides that having grown up, he would rather spend time tending to his wife and son than yukking it up on national television? To fix the one thing in his life, other than his work, he’s been attached to? It would be the final iconoclastic masterstroke for him, one borne out of a commitment to family and self he’s only recently demonstrated. It wouldn’t be a sign of weakness—it would, with the message that he could leave his show, a sign of supreme strength.

I don’t expect this to happen. I just wouldn’t be surprised if it did.