Wednesday, Oct. 17
"Freaks and Geeks," the short-lived critical hit about weird teens in pain, may have been too subtle to compete with narratives about weird teens with special powers in pain, but the genre continues to thrive. The new WB teen angst drama "Smallville," which could be subtitled "The Introspective Adventures of Superteen," premiered last night at the same time that the USA network unleashed the snarling, growling, terrifying "Wolfgirl" on the you-don't-know what-it's-like-being me demographic.
"Smallville" begins with a modern retelling of the "Superman" genesis myth: A young, childless, Kansas couple pines for a little farmhand of their own, and faster than you can say "Krypton stork," a meteor shower carrying their superchild speeds toward the Earth. But you know the story.
Nothing much has changed since we last saw "Superman" in any of his previous incarnations save for the fact that as a soulful, clear-skinned teen, Clark just wants to be normal like everybody else on the WB. He wants to "go through high school without being a total loser," which is a lofty goal as well as a normal one. At every turn, he is thwarted. He wants to sign up for the football team, but Mom and Dad won't let him, even if he runs at half-speed and is very careful. When Dad tells him it's normal to be upset, Clark snaps, "Normal?" and sticks his arm in the wood chipper.
"I'd give anything to be normal," he says, pulling his unharmed arm from the machine.
Which reminds me that "Wolfgirl" is on. "Wolfgirl" would also give anything to be normal. She is an alarmingly hirsute young lady who travels with a family of sideshow freaks. When the sideshow freaks arrive in the suburbs, there is trouble.
"Wolfgirl's" big problem -- excess body hair -- seems not so serious in a world with so many depilatory options. Still, it causes her chagrin, and provides ample opportunity for the villagers -- who will soon be coming after her with torches -- to mock her. She walks into a doggie salon only to be told they don't "do" humans; she is denied eating utensils at a diner. Only little boys who enjoy watching people bite the heads off rabbits find her intriguing.
"Wolfgirl" soon befriends a geeky, big-nosed kid named Ryan, whose mother, a very attractive scientist with a basement full of bunnies and syringes, provides him with the tools he needs to create a magical hair-removing drug that will transform "Wolfgirl" into the "very pretty" girl Mother expects him to date. The drug, unfortunately, also turns "Wolfgirl" into a writhing, snarling junkie. The more hair she leaves on her pillow at night, the more she feels compelled to go out and kill. If irony weren't dead, we'd mention it here.
In the end, Clark Kent accepts his special destiny on the WB and signs on to a life of crime fighting. (He draws the line at the uniform, however. This Superman will be fighting crime in flannel.) And a now silky-smooth girl-on-the outside, dog-on-the-inside "Wolfgirl" crouches naked by a pond as the sideshow rolls out of town without her.
She looks at her reflection in the water. Funny, she doesn't look canine. Somewhere in her little lupine mind, she is probably wishing she were normal, like the kids on "Wolf Lake."
Monday, Oct. 22
If you think that's scary, it turns out "Wolfgirl" might have had the right idea. Tonight, on the Discovery Health Channel, a three-part series on attractiveness (saucily, if perhaps misleadingly, called "Sex Signs") incontrovertibly proves that looks really are everything. Men and women make "crucial judgments" about each other's sexual attractiveness in under a second, and, "if you don't attract a mate," says one scientist on the show, "you might as well be dead at birth as far as evolution is concerned."
"We are puppets in an evolutionary game," he explains.
Did you know that the human face is a "sexual billboard" that summarizes information about genetic health to potential partners? That beauty is largely based on the degree of symmetry between the two sides of a face is fairly well-known; perhaps not so well-known is that "symmetrical" men have more sex partners than men who are less symmetrical, and that their partners have more orgasms.
You heard right, Johnny. Symmetrical men also produce more pheromones, meaning their T-shirts smell better after being worn for two days in a row. In blind smell tests, three out of three women chose the stinky shirts of symmetrical men over the stinky shirts of asymmetrical men.
Luckily, we are also equipped with a mechanism that allows us to lower our standards so that we can be happy -- beautiful people being in relative short supply, not to mention often boring.
It turns out that beauty is also instrumental in success, despite what mother may have told you. Good-looking people begin sex earlier in life. Good-looking people have better sex. Attractive people are treated better by teachers, juries and bosses. Babies prefer attractive people. Adults prefer cute babies.
In fact, this so-called halo effect causes attractive people to be seen as more socially skilled and intelligent than unattractive people. Asked to make character judgments based on photographs, second-graders will rate models as more intelligent, more kind and happier than high achievers who are not good looking. In a side-by-side comparison, second-graders reject Madeleine Albright as someone "who would do something you wouldn't want her to do" and embrace a young, blue-eyed male model who, according to the kids, appears to be "smart" and have "good eyesight."
Of an unshaven Bob Geldof, a little girl says, "I hate him. He's hairy." This is further proof that "Wolfgirl" had the right idea all along.
Tuesday, Oct. 23
Lenny Kravitz is singing on a rooftop. The Empire State Building is behind him, lit up in red, white and blue. Lenny keeps singing this refrain, "Once you dig in/ You'll find it coming out the other side."
What do you think that means?
Whatever it is, it seems a fitting introduction to Tuesday's VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, the awards show that looks like a benefit, feels like a commercial. Far away, in Los Angeles, the Emmy Awards continue to wander around in a desert of irrelevance, looking for a home. But tonight, on VH1, actors, dancers, senators, designers, models, moguls, mayors and Anna Wintour -- tonight's single most-thanked woman -- mingle to bring us this hourlong boost to the New York Chamber of Commerce and tourism industry. Presenters, honorees, audience and performers are virtually indistinguishable from one another, gorgeous participants in an orgy of cross-promotion.
Except for Donald Trump, who is not so gorgeous, and is relegated to the post of "voice of the VH1/Vogue Fashion awards." In a nutshell, Trump presents the first presenter, Renée Zellweger, who almost immediately introduces Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is wearing something predictably awful (involving very large ruffles), and cracks a joke about not getting a lifetime achievement award for wearing black pantsuits. Then (but seriously) she thanks everyone involved for "not moving this."
Cut to a reaction of rising stud Josh Hartnett, flanked by reviled underage heiresses, the Hilton sisters, who spring up to applaud for either Senator Clinton or the camera that is currently trained on Josh Hartnett. Zellweger then presents the Sharp Dressed Man award to the only nominee, P. Diddy, whom she calls "Sean Puffy Combs," and who thanks his Uncle George, "who happened to be gay" and who showed young Sean that "there were no restrictions in fashion in style."
A commercial explains something about downloading Lenny Kravitz's new single from VH1.com and then having the CD shipped to your house. The commercials and the show are virtually indistinguishable from one another.
Later, Chris Noth and Nelly Furtado enthusiastically introduce Mariah Carey, who emerges from an elevator on a glitter-covered motorcycle, singing "Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life." Everyone in the audience chair-dances until Ben Stiller, as Derek Zoolander, appears on the screen to introduce the Lifetime Achievement Award for Walking Down the Runway as a Male Model, which he wins and then declines for "Richard Gere-like reasons" that he and his handlers are working out, but that he will soon be very passionate about. A Heineken commercial features Ben Stiller as Zoolander, trying to buy his reflection a beer.
Trump then introduces Marc Anthony, rather intriguingly, "as a friend of mine," who in turn presents model Nikki Taylor, who recently recovered from a car accident and gets a standing ovation. Together, they present an award to Josh Hartnett, who wins the Male Newcomer award, and who once wished they would "take away all the money and fame in business," to strip it down to just those who "really wanted to do it." He later changed his mind.
Designers Dolce and Gabbana win something, and express their love for "normal women and famous women, normal men and famous men."
In the photo booth, a voice asks Gwyneth Paltrow (who, I forgot to mention, introduced Lenny Kravitz at the top of the show) what she does for a living. She explains, enunciating very clearly, that she is an ac-TOR. Got it? Ac-TOR. TOR. TOR.
Stella McCartney wins the designer of the year award, and soon Sandra Bullock shows up to introduce New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani thanks the FDNY, the NYPD and the paramedics, who get a standing ovation, as did Sandra Bullock just a few minutes earlier.
Giuliani also thanks the Council of American Designers. "By coming together tonight we're sending a clear message that our nation remains the home of the free and the home of the brave ... thanks to the fashion industry for showing that New York city is open for business."
The council consists of Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Vera Wang and Kate Spade. Everyone is wearing a T-shirt with an American flag heart on it, except for Kate Spade, who is dressed, as usual, like Laura Petrie and carrying one of her own handbags onstage.
The T-shirt, by the way, which was designed together with Vogue, will soon be available at stores near you. Oh, and Donna Karan wants you to shop. "Find something you love and buy it," she says.