Wednesday, Nov. 29
"David Blaine: Frozen in Time" (ABC, 10 p.m.)
The Ice Man cometh; and the ambulance taketh away!
It's the epitome of sensationalism, an hour-long special about a street magician cum self-aggrandizing Zen daredevil encasing himself in a 6-ton block of ice for three days -- in Times Square, no less.
As Blaine's "Master Ice Carvers" patiently begin slicing away minuscule slivers of ice (hey, they had to stretch this out over an hour!), his doctor, a Dr. Ruden, explains the risks associated with the stunt -- blood clots and dehydration, and the potential of having to have a lung or two removed. It is all pretty silly, and I can not explain why I remain riveted to the TV for the duration of the broadcast.
Was it the celebrity appearances? Michael J. Fox makes a few witty remarks to the crowd as the hour progresses. An attempt to film Kevin Spacey making a clever comment at some point during the three-day ordeal proves fruitless. Uma Thurman is caught kissing the ice.
Was it Blaine's pseudo-spiritual quotes and video imagery? Cut to the Wailing Wall. Behind the traditionally garbed clergyman deep in prayer, artfully out of focus, Blaine, in sharp focus, is seen staring directly into the camera as he recites an homage to himself. Camera pans to a rice field, where a farmer, artfully out of focus, works as Blaine, in sharp focus, is seen staring directly into the camera as he recites an homage to himself. This goes on for quite a while.
Maybe it is watching his pretty, 20-year-old model gal-pal Josie standing outside his ice cell laughing and crying and playing the good girlfriend for the cameras. Or Blaine himself looking like death inside the ice. (Oh, no! Will he survive? Or will he die right here in front of the TV audience?) Or the clips of him preparing for the stunt by immersing himself in a giant ice cooler, topless! (The topless part was a huge draw for me personally. I mean, come on, he is easy on the eyes, this Blaine guy.)
In all, I think the main draw is the clips of Blaine performing magic tricks on the street for crowds of young urbanites or on the practice court of the New York Knicks. I still can't figure out how he dropped that lady's engraved ring down a New York sewer to find it only few moments later inside an airplane-sized bottle of Johnny Walker Red.
The climax is supposed to be Blaine emerging triumphantly from the ice. As it happens, Blaine is pulled from the ice because he can't walk. When the master ice carver makes the first initial breakthrough (after approximately 55 minutes) Blaine is heard to say, "I want out. I want out now." As he comes out, cameras are thrust in his face for a quick sound bite. The sound bite is, "Something's wrong." He is shoved and carried off, as his manager dramatically calls for Josie to hurry along. The final shot is of the onlookers enduring the driving rain to catch a glimpse of the daredevil being once again encased -- this time inside an ambulance.
Saturday, Dec. 2
"G-String Divas" (HBO, 11 p.m.)
I'm entranced by this show. The strippers profiled weekly, all of whom work at one strip club, are so far beyond post-sex feminism, or post-feminist sex, or whatever it's called (and what is it, anyway?), that their personal philosophies about their work read less like manifestoes of empowerment than simple, frank assessments of what they do. They're so up-front about their jobs they could be administrative assistants talking about the things they like or dislike about their daily duties -- filing vs. getting a patron to buy you a $12 ginger ale.
"G-String Divas," continued
Many of these girls -- in the real world, I'm supposed to call them "women," but they refer to one another as girls, and it's almost a badge of honor -- seem to enjoy their work as much as any of us ever do. And they still have to put up with the same old garbage that any working girl has to, and it doesn't always come from their audience. I love the way the girls sit and listen, just vaguely attentive enough to appear as if they actually give a shit, as the burly galoots who run the club lay down the rules.
Sure, the regulations are there to protect them, but they just want to get on with it and work. And the club's employees and management, strutting around like every mullet-wearing yobbo who ever thought he was important because he carried a pager, provide the best comic moments, making authoritative pronouncements like, "There's groping going on in the Champagne Court! This cannot be tolerated!"
Some of the girls are eminently likable, and some just ain't. This week I took an instant dislike to Ginger, the club's biggest moneymaker, who described herself as the huntress and the men in the audience as her prey. Then she starts slithering around her pole with a plastic sensuality and barely a wink of humor. Sure, when the camera pans the spectators, they look like a group of glassy-eyed sheep, although I suppose what was most annoying about them was that they could be taken in so easily by her bitch-goddess act. But that's the way it works, isn't it? Different girls for different types of guys, or even for the same guy in different moods.
Anyway, I'm beyond trying to understand the mechanics, but on the whole I do enjoy these girls -- not just for their naked beauty but also for their candor and good humor, even in the face of a clearly prurient setup. They're so much classier than the show.
Sunday, Dec. 3
"Queer as Folk" (Showtime, 7 p.m.)
This astonishingly raunchy show is based on a British series of the same name. A lot of the early articles about it have helpfully explained that the title is a British phrase meaning, roughly, "people sure are funny." But it also means "queer as fuck," which is what virtually every character in the show is. The first episode, which was about an hour and a half long, focuses on the most Dionysian of the bunch, Brian, and his relationship -- lets call it that, though it really amounts merely to an athletic and extended one-night stand -- with cutie-pie 17-year-old Justin, who heads over to the gay part of town one night to lose his virginity.
Brian happily and thoroughly accommodates him. The main subtext of this episode -- though it's unclear whether it will continue -- is Brain's unease with his age. He's 29, and he and virtually everyone else seems to think that his days are numbered, though no one comes out and says it.
In the British show the boy was a scandalous 15. Even pay cable isn't brave enough to try that, and some strange bit of demure decision-making has removed any full frontal nudity from the show as well. But we do get this or that oblique glimpse of the show's real main characters and enough sweaty humping, butt shots, bathroom assaults and very naughty talk to get the point. "I want you to always remember this," the not-entirely-nice Brian says to Justin, whose feet are pointing directly at the ceiling.
I think we will too. The first 15 minutes are blushingly grimy; even some self-styled sophisticates are going to be a bit uncomfortable watching some of the first-date rituals on display here. At first it seems as if the whole show is going to be that brutal, but it's apparent pretty soon that the producers were just separating the men from the boys, so to speak.
"Queer as Folk," continued
Otherwise, it's a great show, with sassy dialogue and warm-blooded characters; the whole conception seems, in the first episode at least, full-bodied. One complaint: Despite the raunch, it's all a little too fresh. The person who's supposed to be the central character -- Michael, Brian's best friend -- is squeaky clean; he has a nightmare of a supportive, PFLAG mom, but doesn't seem to appreciate how intrusive her support is.
There's a sweet sheen on everything. The day after getting thoroughly debauched by Brian, chirpy Justin is at school, telling a classmate about his mad adventures the night before. In real life, I think, young Justin would have had trouble sitting down for a day or two.
"The X-Files" (Fox, 8 p.m.)
The post-Mulder era bumps along with Robert Patrick (the morphing villain from "Terminator 2") playing Dana Scully's new partner: John Doggett. Sunday's episode follows the fate of a 7-year-old named Billy. Ten years ago he was abducted from a carnival. Now he's suddenly reappeared -- still seemingly 7 years old! Billy's mother seems unperturbed by the fact that her now 17-year-old son still looks exactly like the one she lost a decade before.
It's an old-fashioned ghost story: The family pet and younger brother are instantly spooked by the kid. But neither Dogget nor Scully pick up on any funny business. We have to keep reminding ourselves that this is the new era of "The X-Files," with new characters and new motivations. Pseudo-scientific theories -- like Mulder himself -- are out, even though the show's phenomena are still as tangible as young Billy.
The thick Freudian background of vanished children is reintroduced in this episode. Just as Mulder lost his younger sister and Scully was rendered barren (she's pregnant again, too), we see Doggett pulling a snapshot of a young boy out of his wallet in tonight's episode: his own missing child.
Doggett has a "just the facts, ma'am" style, which finds him doing the legwork and late-night research to uncover the sole likely suspect in the long-closed abduction case. He's not a complete wash; he's placed as straight-ahead cop with straight-ahead manners who'll charge right in to grill a 7-year-old about his abduction. And he gives you a sense of how Scully's evolved over the years -- now he plays the earnest young skeptic to Scully's bruised agnosticism.
It's all well and good if you can overlook the lack of chemistry between them. Each episode makes you yearn for Mulder. Give us some quirkiness, wit or romantic heat. Spare us the "Dragnet"-style good cop/bad cop routine.
But Patrick's relationship with Scully is slowly developing, and their repartee is actually kind of fun, because she's no longer relegated to being the shining light of reason amidst Mulder's madness. And that's the point of the new "X-Files": We're no longer dealing with true believers. In their place, scientific and law enforcement minds compete to solve weird cases ripped straight from the headlines and wealth of urban lore about small-town or backwoods America. Last week it was a cult in the middle of the desert; this week it's ghosts in Dexter, Okla.
The big difference is that Scully defers to Doggett even more obviously than she did to Mulder. In this week's episode she has to tell Doggett that the perp is running away so that he can go on a very masculine chase while she tends to the boy. Last week it was Doggett arriving in the nick of time to cut the latest variation of the Alien out of Scully's spine and hold off the backwoods religious believers. Scully depends on her male partner more than ever: He nails the bad guy and she's stuck caring for the victim.