Aaaah, so THAT’S why this week’s X-Files was so much better

The writer and director, Darin Morgan, also wrote for the original series, and was responsible for two of the very best episodes of the show: Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ and the Emmy-winning Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, both of which are brilliant.

In particular, note that both “Chung” and this week’s episode feature retelling of events from multiple perspectives as well as a certain over-arching sardonic and self-aware humor. (Did you notice Mulder’s ringtone is the X-Files’ theme music?)

Wikipedia link; more over at IO9, which also notes a few Easter eggs — the biggest of which is actually in the comments: the character Guy Mann is dressed exactly like Carl Kolchak, from the show that inspired Chris Cater in the 1970s.

Dave.

The tributes are coming fast and furious this week, which makes sense: Letterman’s swan song is tonight, easily the biggest talk show event since Carson’s retirement over twenty years ago.

Two of the most moving I’ve seen so far are from other, younger comedians who grew up idolizing Letterman.

The first was from Norm MacDonald, who was on Letterman a couple nights ago to do a final standup set there. He’s funny, but he gets real towards then end as he talks about seeing a young Dave as a standup comic when he was a teenager in Toronto.

The second is from Jimmy Kimmel last night, who is no less choked up at the prospect of Letterman’s retirement. He talks openly of watching Late Night as a teen, just as everyone in our generation of a certain bent did.

He closes with something kind of awesome: he announced that tonight’s show will be a rerun, and that all his viewers should watch Dave’s final show instead.

The final bit of Kimmel’s tribute includes a segment from early in Dave’s career that I remember quite clearly, though my memory doesn’t have tracking problems.

So, about that SNL 40 Afterparty

First, HOLY CHRIST MAN THAT SOUNDS AWESOME.

The best part is set up by this:

“They have a stage set up with just instruments: drums, mics, guitars, bass, keyboard, but no band,” Fallon said. “Just a set up in case anyone wants to get on stage and jam.”

Second, pretty much only Fallon could tell that story and not come off like an asshole. You still get the idea that he cannot believe his immense good fortune. For him, part of it are just a story about his friends (when he references cast members), but in the rest of it he’s just as starstruck as anyone else would be.

(To be fair, Seth Meyers gave a shorter recap, and he’s equally amazed and charming — and points out what Fallon kind of buries, which is Jimmy’s key role in making the jam happen.)

Well, 40 years is a long time.

Last night, NBC ran the October 11, 1975 premiere of Saturday Night Live. I was struck by a few things in particular.

First, the tone and rhythm of the show is very different — pacing is weird and more haphazard, for example, which makes sense since the show as brand new and running at a time when they could generally assume almost no one was watching. It’s also way more of a variety show than the pure sketch show it became. George Carlin has several segments of standup, and the two musical guests — Janis Ian and Billy Preston — each get two songs. Jim Henson’s Muppets have a bit, even.

Second, there’s a LOT more show. The show as broadcast last night seems completely uncut; this may be the first time I’ve seen ALL of the first episode. There seem to be many, many fewer commercial breaks, and they’re shorter when they happen. I knew commercials had become more pervasive in my TV-watching life, but it was gradual. Seeing an example of 1970s TV today, complete with period breaks, is pretty shocking. (I’m willing to stipulate that 11:30 on a Saturday may not have been particularly appealing ad time, so maybe the first SNL has fewer breaks than a prime time show of that era would’ve had, but the difference is still shocking.)

Finally, well, you can’t help but notice how many folks in the first episode have died. Because I’m morbidly curious, I made this list of the dead people I saw, in the order in which they appear:

  • Michael O’Donoghue (1994, 54)
  • John Belushi (died in 1982 at age 33)
  • George Carlin (2008, 71)
  • Billy Preston (2006, 59)
  • Gilda Radner (1989, 42)
  • Andy Kaufman (1984, 35)
  • Jim Henson (1990, 53)

It’s sad to see that, of these, only Carlin lived past the three score and ten we think of as a “normal” life before dying of heart failure. Belushi of course did himself in, but the rest of them passed naturally despite their relative youth.

All of the surviving original cast is north of 60 now. The oldest, Garrett Morris, is 78. Dan Ackroyd and Laraine Newman are the babies at 62.

(Update: Alert reader F.D. notes that my order above was off; O’Donoghue appears in the first sketch, but I didn’t realize that was him.)

Behind the scenes on the greatest TV show EVER

A sound editor who worked on the Wire did an AMA over at Reddit; Kottke has highlights but this is my favorite:

McNulty (Dom West) came in often and was awesome, as well. His accent showed most often when the character was drunk or angry. Oddly, the name “Stringer Bell” tripped him up a lot. “Stringa” and then a very over-enunciated end to “Bell-eh.” Also, the words “fuck” and “cunt” came out “feck” and “cahnt” and the only way to break him of it was to stand right in front of him (so he could watch the mouth shape) and say the word over and over again. So a Dom West ADR session often went like this:

Me (with Dom staring at my mouth): Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.
Dom: Cahnt. Shit, do it again, please.
Me: Cunt. Cunt. Cunt.
Dom: Cunt. Cunt. OK, let’s record…
(three beeps, the line starts and):
Dom: …cahnt. Feck! Say it again.
Me: Cunt….

Dept. of Good Things On TV

As a consequence of my injury back before Thanksgiving, Mrs Heathen and I spent a little time between then and Chrismas trying to keep me on the first floor of Heathen World HQ (and plan we’ve subsequently abandoned, because NO). During our evenings there, we were limited in televised entertainment, as we remain (apparently) the last remaining single television home in Christendom.

This limited us to things would could watch for free on NetFlix or Hulu, or on a pay-per-episode basis via iTunes. I don’t remember where I got the tip, but somehow I became aware of a show from the BBC, currently available on NetFlix, called The Fall. It stars Gillian Anderson (who apparently keeps a portrait in her attic) as an investigator in Belfast who in relatively short order finds herself pursuing a serial killer.

(Unlike lots of transatlantic casting, this works, largely because Anderson’s accent is spot on. The reason, apparently, is that she lived in the UK until she was 11, and can code-switch from American to British on the fly. Neat trick.)

Anyway, the first season is there, and you should watch it — and soon, so that you’ll be ready to enjoy season 2 when it arrives on Netflix on January 16.

Wired has a nice piece up about the show which you may enjoy; it’s spoiler-free, mostly (a last-episode plot detail drops late in the piece, but it’s not a major thing).

The End of an Era

Since 1986, David Letterman has celebrated Christmas on his programs by inviting Darlene Love to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on his last pre-Christmas show. It’s a wonderful thing that’s grown in size and scope and power over these 28 or so years.

Letterman, of course, is retiring next year; tonight will be his final Christmas show. Love will deliver her signature holiday tune, but with Letterman’s retirement she’s announced that she will be retiring the song from television out of respect.

Tune in. It’s sure to be lovely.

(More on the series at Mefi.)

You know those “one second a day” videos?

Well, new SNL featured player Brooks Wheelan made one.

What’s neat about this is that a year ago, in early 2012, Wheelan had an engineering job in Los Angeles and did comedy on the side, as a hobby. He did not even have a Wikipedia page.

The video ends up documenting what will probably be one of the most momentous and amazing years in his life, but he had no way of knowing that would be the outcome when he started the project last January.

That’s pretty cool.

HOWTO: Catch up on a pop culture phenom you missed

Breaking Bad is racking up the praise at this point like nothing since the Wire, so I’ve been meaning to dive in — but, at this point, with four seasons in the can and another one in progress, that’s a rather daunting prospect. Especially when it’s exactly the sort of show (violent, bleak) that Mrs Heathen wants no part of. (We are sometimes accused of un-Americanism because we have only one TV.)

However, she’s out of town this weekend, and I have the first 2 seasons on DVD on loan from a friend. So, since Friday evening, I’ve watched the entire first season (only 7 episodes) plus over half (8 of 13) of the second season. It’s network TV, not pay cable, so each episode is only about 47 minutes, but that still means it’s been a pretty serious binge.

It started simply, which is fitting for a show about meth: I watched the first two episodes on Friday night before I stepped out for a party.

Then I went a little nuts. On Saturday, after lunch, I sat down and watched SEVEN EPISODES IN A ROW — over six hours of this bleak cancer-and-meth extravaganza. And I only quit because I wanted to go catch a band. Then, when I came home, I watched ANOTHER episode.

Today, I spent the bulk of the afternoon doing something really incredibly geeky with four other people, but I got back from that at about 7. It is now 11:47, and I’m still up because I have a con call with Abu Dhabi in 13 minutes. But for that con call, I’d still be watching Breaking Bad, but as it is it appears that I’ll have to content myself with only five episodes today.

For devoted fans, I’ll note that my latest episode is the 8th of season two, which is where we’re introduced to Bob Odenkirk‘s character, Saul Goodman. Who is AWESOME. Also awesome: the entire “wrong bald guy” sequence.

The show is not the equal of the Wire, but I can absolutely say that Bryan Cranston has deserved every nice thing said about him here — and more. The evolution of Walter from the first episode is astounding. His ability to channel that prior Walter becomes more and more unnerving as the choices he makes take him further and further into damnation.