Monday, January 30, 2006

Television Review: Childrens Programming Part II

I'm back, and so are a whole new host of unholy childrens entertainment enemas. Some of them are good, some of them are bad, and some of them are really bad, and some of them give "bad" a bad name, but one this is for sure: they do exist, and that's the saddest thing of all. Onto the reviews!


I first heard this show before I saw it. I was intrigued by the introduction music, which is horribly catchy. Soon I was forced to watch this breathy little three-year old big-headed compuclaymation kid and his anthropomorphic friends have silly little adventures. Obviously influenced in form and style by anime, Pocoyo is narrated by one of my heroes, Stephen Fry, also known as General "Insanity" Melchett. Pocoyo is an exceedingly cute character, as are all of his friends. The animation is top-notch, the musical score is soothing, and the voices are not irritating. It's a silly little show with no true educational merit, but it's something I don't actually mind watching with ym son, if only to impart some sense of animation style and culture. This show actually gets a 7.9 out of 10.

When they introduce the "guys" on this show, you can almost hear the song from Brain Candy... "I'm gay, I'm gay! He's gay, he's gay!" This show is just creepy... they take five attractive youngsters in the peak of their physical beauty, and at the peak of their post-pubescent raging hormones, and make them frolick around in silly costumes on stage to entertain children. You just know that the after-parties for their shows are bacchanals of drugs, booze, and pixie sticks. To start off, the show is needlessly loud. Their singing skills, which are actually considerable, are usually drowned out by having them sing chorus-style to feet-thumping rhythms which were produced with the "Hit Song" button on a producers keyboard. The skits are strangely meaningless, the acting is god-awful (stop staring at the CAMERA!!!) and the entire show is designed to give kids the physiological signs of a sugar rush, without the actual sugar, resulting in an inexplicable addiction to brightly colored pleather pants and cowboy hats. And that's just the boys. For lowering the standards of normal children everywhere, Hi-5 gets a 1 out of 10.

Bearenstein Bears

The freaking Bearenstain Bears. No more am I allowed to go to sleep without hearing the accursed theme song to this plot-anvil atrocity of a morality injection. The most unrealistically functional family in the Universe shows us that you can be hugely popular no matter how strange you are, that every single trouble you encounter as a child can be solved with a fortune-cookie platitude, and that every day ends with a family more in love with itself than the day before. The sugary-sweet hammer to your forehead reminds you every day that families on TV are better than yours. The animation is good, the music was all right the first eight hundred times I heard that damn violin, but that's where the goodness ends. I hate this show. I hate this show so very, very much. But, it isn't truly BAD, so I am forced to give it a 3 out of 10.

Toopy and Binoo

The story of a sexually confused mouse and his asexual stuffed speechless feline life-partner and their adventures, quite literally, in storybooks. Told with nonstop giggling, the click-and-stretch cel animation is smoothly done, and the voices are pretty good, and there's enough peculiarities in an episode to amuse my brain, but it's still most definitely a show for kids who aren't old enough to find something childish. Often found cross-dressing, wearing lipstick, or just generally wishing he were a princess, Toopy acts out parts from popular storybooks to catchy little piano riffs, while his mute feline companion (who, I have to admit, is really cute) does wierd little asides in the background. It was an effort at a show for little kids that adults could get a chuckle out of now and then, and it mostly worked. 6.75 out of 10

This conceptual nightmare of a show is broken into four segments. One: an early twenties psychology student (just guessing) looks at the camera and with a secretive grin on her face that seems to say, "I'm not wearing underwear," she recites a limerick or song or poem. Then a little girl comes and sits next to her, and they go through it together. That's it. Two: The Four Tones, all dressed in green, sing doo-wah songs with the Doo-Wahs, four puppets as shown above. The kids are urged to "Do what the Doo Wahs do!" While the creepy black guy, the creepy Irish girl, and the two 'other' Four Tones sing along, the Doo Wahs make little motions until it's their turn to sing. It grates, but it's good music. Three: Captain Hup and his Stretchy Communist Balet Dancers frolick around, making wierd positions with their bodies while the audience tries not to stare at Captain Hup's amazingly unnecessary codpiece. Four: Four hiply-dressed urban teenagers (three black, and one redhead girl) make silly noises and robotic dance motions in turn, then all together, and most of them are usually racially offensive to three of the four members of this troupe. I ain't saying anything. The show is colorful, lacks a soundtrack, and is shot entirely on one of four solid-color backgrounds. Even Sebby is bored of this show now. 2 out of 10

Big Comfy Couch
Starring the extremely-well-known but hardly-famous Alyson Court, voice of Jubilee in just about every X-Men cartoon, Big Comfy Couch is a strange form of entertainment. Starring exclusively people over the age of 30, it's about a 'little girl clown' named Loonette. She lives on a gigantic couch, which is meant to reduce her to childlike proportions. She has Molly, her puppet, and her Granny Garbanzo (played by the awesomely named Grindl Kuchuka), the postman Major Bedhead (who rides a unicycle well!) and her Auntie Macassar (for those who don't know, an antimacassar is a kind of colorful woven blanket thingie). There are actual plots to these shows, even if they are simplistic. The one that sticks in my memory is where Loonette has some sort of heavy-metal throwdown while singing "I"M MAD!" while flames lick at the screen. I kid you not. That made all the silly episodes so very, very worthwhile. The show isn't condescending, the people radiate friendliness, and the morality-anvils are bearable. There's even interludes with her dolls (who are played by normal people wearing gigantic fuzzy heads) and the Dust Bunnies Under The Couch (who are just sooo CUTE). All in all, this is a strange offering, and I like it. 7.2 out of 10.

This bizarre claymation show stars a simple-minded blue dragon, named Dragon. His friends are all as equally cleverly named, except Mailmouse, who has an extra word thrown in there. Dragon spends his days trying to hide the fact that he is mildly retarded, but when he brings a snowman into his house, opens the windows, turns off the heat, and then moves outside into the snow, you can't help but feel a little sorry for the network that is exploiting him. His adventures are brief and silly, and are actually made up of four or five segments, so that an individual segment can be stuck between full-length shows on Treehouse as filler. There's nothing wrong with this show, but nothing amazingly right. It's cute, though.... so 5 out of 10.

Farzzle's World
Ugh. My brain. Although conceptually pretty neat, this show just bugs the hell out of me. The entire soundtrack is composed of stock sound bits of wind, and brooms, and stuff... except for Farzzle himself. His bits are actually sounds recorded from a little tiny baby, and the gibberish is used as the basis for the show. Farzzle plays with flying brooms, gets sucked up into bubbles, flies through space, and does other batshit random stuff to the endlessly-replayed sounds of a baby's oohs, ahhs, and giggles. It's crudely animated (ostensibly on purpose) and, despite that, there's about 90 people in the credits. This show is purposeless, and even my son doesn't really watch it anymore. 2 out of 10

Mighty Machines

This show I don't really mind, since it's pretty much purely educational. It's footage of machines doing what they do, but they're voiced over as if the machines themselves were talking. Awful accents and corny dialogue make it utterly hilarious to watch, as evidenced by the fact that I can drawl out "Ohhh, Kubota!" in a thick Irish brogue and send my entire family into fits of giggles. Thanks to this show, my son knows about skid-steer loaders, underground salt mining machines, combine harvesters, tree barkers, and dozens of vehicles and machines even I don't know the names of. It also helps him get a grasp for engines and mechanics, stuff I still don't totally get. I'm for this show, since it entertains my son (it's one of his favorites!) and teaches him non-stop. 9.1 out of 10

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Literary Review: The Selected Works Of Dean Koontz


I'd just like to start off by saying that I do not advocate the reading of all or indeed any of Dean Koontz's books. As with any potentially harmful substance, research and careful application must be used, and even then it is best not to do it alone. If you have any doubts, please leave it to the professionals, as permanent damage may result. The following reviews have been compiled after the experiences of reading actual Dean Koontz books with my own eyes, without the proper precautions being taken. You have been warned. The books are being reviewed roughly in the order that I read them.


I bought this book for a buck at a thrift store when I was young, maybe 14 or 15. It had a brightly colored title, and big jagged letters, and talked about murderers, so I figured I'd give it a try. I was hooked pretty much right away, because at the time, the breathless writing and harried pace seemed perfectly suited to the plot. However, I now understand that this is exactly how he writes everything. However, this is one of his earlier books, and the writing is not noticed as sharply as his later work. I'll stick to the strict book review for now. This is a fairly good book, with a moderately believable heroine, and an awesomely portrayed psycho (ably played by John C "Dr Cox" McGinley in the TV movie!) I recommend this book for young readers who are looking for something that won't make them think too hard, and who want advice on how to accurately write someone with a vastly different personality to your own. Rating... 7.3 out of 10

Mr. Murder

I bought this book for a few dollars right after readong Intensity, my first Koontzian experience. The back of it made it look promising, and I have to say, I was not disappointed. The writing was excellently controlled, and Koontz's zealous overuse of plot anvils and synonyms in rapid staccato was reigned in and replaced with a hushed, suspenseful prose. Although the plot was largely lifted from Stephen King's "The Dark Half", the mysticism was replaced with science fiction remarkably well. The repeated encounters, the chase, the villains, the main antagonist, and the protagonists are all remarkably well-written, and considering this is not a science-fiction writer, it did not devolve into pointless technological ramblings. He stuck to what he knew, and it worked out very well. To this day, my favorite Koontz book. I actually recommend this one. 8.9 out of 10


Space Nazis! Wait, wait... sorry... getting ahead of myself here. Let me start over. I got this book from my mom, who at the time was rebuilding a sizeable murder-mystery collection again. Dipping again into science fiction slightly, Koontz actually comes up with a little-used plot twist, and places it well in the book. At the time, I was shocked by it, although I've seen it used a few more times since then. Another tough, self-sufficient female lead with a tragic past overcomes her fears and kicks some ass, despite the craziness of the world around her (Koontz will use this 512 more times before the decade is out, so keep reading!) Space Nazi and All-American Hero alternately try to kill her and save her, in order to either destroy the world, or.... do absolutely nothing to it. The ending is fairly unsatisfactory, but the middle is pretty good. The writing is also reigned in, although I can see he busted out his new "Super-Duper Thesaurus" to come up with as many synonyms as possible for 'loud', 'dark', 'night', and 'scared'. Congratulations. 5.1 out of 10

Dragon Tears

Disclaimer: Avoid this book at all costs. Don't even try to pick it up. Back away. Mr Koontz was writing three books at the same time, and somehow all the words fell out of his computer and got jumbled on the floor. The result was this painfully overwrought muder-mystery-psychobabble with a strong female character who overcomes her tragic past to trimph over evil, or some shit, along with a grizzled but kind-hearted police officer who abhors the use of violence to defeat some evil little kid. I don't know why they published this, it clearly wasn't finished. 2.5 out of 10, just for the macabre thrill of reading something this startlingly bad.


With a plot lifted largely from Stephen King's 'Cujo', a good super-dog and a bad super-dog square off in a battle for global supremacy at a secluded farmhouse, where a strong male lead overcomes his tragic past to trimph over adversity. There's really not much more I can say about this. A military experiment gone bad results in a good super-dog, a bad super-dog.... and.... stuff happens. This book was my first introduction to just how bad Mr Koontz can write. It's written with the same breathless desire to express how COOL something is that my three-year old son uses, and it takes about the same amount of time to get through a single run-on sentence. Put down the Thesaurus, Mr Koontz. Down... downn..... good boy. 2.1 out of 10

I must admit that I saw the movie first, and this movie has become one of my all-time favorites. Not because of the plot, which is fairly hackneyed (like everything is these days) but because of the cast, and the cinematography, and the acting... all actually first-rate. The monster is fairly creative, Peter O'Toole is awesome, especially when he yells "It's a pretty tough FUCKING customer!" I read the book after, and my experience may have been colored by the movie. The book is fairly good, although the over-wrought writing and the almost laughable use of synonyms can grate after a while. For a better experience, I recommend watching the movie first, to make the book easier to swallow (although, really, why eat a really good steak just before eating a really bad steak?) Even so, see the movie. It's worth it. The movie gets an 8.8 out of 10, and the book gets a 4 out of 10, if only for inspiring the movie.

Winter Moon

An evil presense squeezes through a time-space hole for some reason, and a family nearby in a secluded farmhouse overcome their tragic past to trimph over evil, with their psychic-for-no-real-reason son. I've just given you the whole book. Walk away. Just walk away. 1 out of 10

Odd Thomas

There was probably a three-year gap between reading Winter Moon, and reading Odd Thomas. I got it for a buck at Value Village, because the cover art looked intriguing, and it was getting pretty rave reviews from publications I normally respect. I read a few pages at the front, and was impressed with the writing, and the skill, and the pace, so I bought it, along with the book in the following review. I was hooked after a few pages, and I was wholly impressed with the first half of the novel. Although lifted largely from 'The Sixth Sense', the basic premise was pretty good, and the characterization was first-rate. The plot took a bit to get going, but once it did... it stopped again. This, and the next two books I review, among Koontz's three most recent, all have the exact same problems going for them (at least, they all share these): Mr Koontz can't end a book. The plot vanished, the pacing died a horrible death, nothing was explained, fate was questioned and blamed, and then the words just sort of petered out, and I was left sitting on the couch, holding the closed book, thinking "Well, he could have at least finished the book before publishing it." For starting off as awesomely impressive, he gets a couple kudos, but for the ending, his final score works out to a 6.1 out of 10. Read if you have nothing better to do.

From The Corner Of His Eye

This book started off just like Odd Thomas. The writing was, for the first few pages, reigned in and subtle. Pretty soon, it became the absolute worst example of his inability to control the "Word Search" function on his computer. Although Enoch Cain quickly became one of my favorite literary psychos, the writing and the utterly staggering number of main characters combined to give me a pounding headache and a profound sense of joy everytime someone got killed off. Although the entire novel centers around the idea that "If you do good, good things will come back to you, and if you do bad, bad things will come back to you", the only consistent message is that "You can get your head blown off at any time, or maybe die of sudden cancer, so being good doesn't really mean squat". In the end, it all comes down to magic children poking holes in the Universe, and the original message was lost forever in one of these paralell realities. With luck, there is a universe where this book never saw the light of day. The ending was staggeringly bad, and so disjointed that I skipped the last few pages out of sheer boredom. Right after I finished this book I got sick, and I'm not entirely sure it was the fault of the germs. 1.7 out of 10

The Taking
This was it. This was the last Koontz book I will ever read (unless I re-read Mr Murder, or Phantoms). This one actually started off bad, and went quite quickly downhill. Setting new records for obfuscating the plot, not answering questions, leaving giant plot holes, and just generally having no purpose whatsoever, The Taking ranks up there with The Eye Of Argon for disjointed language, scatter-brained messages, and purebred stupidity. There's no way I can finish this review with family-friendly language, so I'll sum it up with a 0.1 out of 10

I need to go lay down.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cuisine Review: Beef Stroganoff

Those wacky Russians. The one thing in the world they should feel justifiably superior about, and they ignore it in favor of "We have nukes", "We invented Vodka", and "We won the Cold War and gave Hollywood a cheap and easy villain". Come on, comrades! Beef Stroganoff! Let's analyze it.

Beef - By itself, this is a good meal
Noodles - Ok, we're starting to see something great being formed
Sour Cream - Getting better, though slightly wierd looking
Onions - Normally I hate these.
Mushrooms - Normally I really hate these
Garlic - My favorite plant.

Ok, so thats four things I like, and two things I hate. Much like Sushi (forthcoming review), though, this mixture becomes greater than the sum of it's parts. Hamburger Helper, the bottom rung of Stroganoffocity, is still pretty damn good. My home-made kind is even better. My wife's vegetarian Stroganoff (this is so difficult to say) is delicious. At the top of the pyramid, the apex of Stroganoff, is my wife's dad's recipe. To this day, it is almost delicious enough to entice me to ask him to marry me... of course, that would lead to gunshot wounds, so I refrain.

So come on, you Red buggers! Say it once, and say it loud! We're Stroganoff, and we're proud! (That sounds so dirty when you say it with an accent)

9 out of 10

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Biology Review: The Common Fucking Cold

*snnrrkkkk* That's right. I'm here to review one of the most annoying conditions on the planet. The common cold, also known as "acute nasopharyngitis", is a mild viral infectious disease of the nose and throat, but it can also cause inflammation of the ear canals as well as various symptoms involving the eyes. This pretty much covers the head holes, as most humans have them. The virus is nothing if not thorough. The average human can kick one on three to five days... me, usually three, and Throkky, usually five.

More than five kinds of common cold virus, with several hundred specific varieties, exist, which explains why medicine to combat it is so often very useless, as you would require various fluid samples to determine WHICH kind of virus it is. Expensive tests. It is much easier, and less expensive, and more convenient, to simply treat the symptoms, which is why I am currently seeing the world through a fuzzy haze of ibuprophen, pseudoephedrine, and key lime pie (fuck you all, pie makes me feel better).

The common cold costs the American economy alone $7.7 billion dollars in downtime, and many more billions worldwide. In Canada, though, as well as traditionally 'colder' European nations, the rate per capita of colds versus the rate of missed days are lower, perhaps due to our "It's just a cold" mentality. Of course, this means that, thanks to people toughing it out, someone in my office has had a cold since November. It's sort of a Canadian roulette... "Ok, who gets the cold THIS week... iiiiiits.... CHRIS! Hooray!"

The cold has been identified in ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Mayan and Incan civilizations, and everywhere the treatments were mixtures and concoctions that sped up the metabolism, and made you sweat, as well as naturally occuring antinflammatories and decongestants, usually high in natural sugars and spices. Everytime I get sick, I head for the orange juice and spicy foods, so maybe there's something to these natural cures. Extra Strong Honey Garlic Teryaki ribs make me feel better, that's all I'm saying.

Anyways, for being a tough little bugger, and not giving up, even though the cold viruses outnumber us a billion to one, I give the common cold a 7. Keep it up, little guys... *snnrrrkkk*

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Game (P)Review: Colonization II (2007)

This is a review of a game which doesn't exist, but if there is any justice in this Universe (and occaisionally there is), then I'll be able to get this game for Father's Day in 2007. The sequel to the hugely popular "Colonization", a spin-off from Sid Meier's record-shattering Civilization series, this game expands upon the solid gameplay the first installment offered.

Colonization was a place for Sid Meier to experiment with different formats, like his other popular spin-off, "Alpha Centauri". Without risking the Civilization franchise, he was able to play around with different methods of combat, government, and city management in both of these games, coming up with some truly innovative and brilliant ideas. Colonization II uses everything he's learned in his many games to bring you the ultimate empire-building experience.

With a frontier government type similar to the Alpha Centauri "Social Engineering" system, players will be able to mix and match how their empire is run from a variety of choices in a variety of fields, from Economy, to Personal Freedoms, to Military. Although Colonization II takes place in a very narrow timeframe and it does not include the "Technology Tree" feature, there will be ways to advance the technological skill of your empire. A dozen "Milestones" can be reached, each one adding slightly to the abilities and properties of your units, and cities. You can also still elect members of your Continental Congress, each one bringing considerable power to the table. Furthermore, some of these Congressmembers are playable units! They can lead your armies, inspire your population in person, or act as diplomats between you and the other foreign powers, or the potent force of the Natives.

The Natives have also been revamped and improved in Colonization II. Whereas in the first game they were merely obstacles and never a real threat, the indigenous nations of America are now forces to be reckoned with. They take as well as give, and can make or break your bid to win self-determination for your immigrants. The French still deal with them better, and the Spanish still deal with them... in their own manner, but both will find the Natives will now no longer acept six dollars for a boatload of cotton... at least, after the first time they get ripped off.

Borders, religious uprisings, slavery and emancipation, diseases, harsh winters and the allmighty Declaration and War of Independence all combine to create a rich, deep gameplay to rival any of the Civilization franchine. You listening, Sid? I want this game.

9.75 out of 10.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Holiday Review: Christmas

I have extremely mixed feelings towards this holiday, so an objective review will be difficult. I'm going to try and lump the positive and negative aspects into groups, so it'll be easier to deal with them.


  • Brings family together
  • A time to get presents
  • Better-than-average movies on TV
  • Better food for a few weeks


  • Brings family together
  • Going broke buying presents
  • Severe interruption of normal television schedule
  • Force-fed advertisments for toys most kids don't really want
  • Branded-commercialism hard to avoid
  • Prices skyrocket for extremely cheap items, such as cards
  • Brings family together
  • Small children tend to become slightly more irrational
  • Still millions of people don't get any good food or presents
  • Now at the age where I don't really get presents, either

It's easy to see where I stand on the idea of Christmas. It's an artificial holiday hijacked from the pagans, ostensibly about Jesus but arguably more about Santa, a pagan figure, and presents, an American tradition. In the 'old countries', it was just a time to exchange food and small trinkets for children, and to observe several fun pagan practices, like singing carols and hanging stockings for sprites to fill with goodies. Unfortunately, we're not at the point where the holiday, and the spending, are inextricably linked. The Western world shuts down for an entire week in order to make this money more economically lucrative than almost any other two months combined.

True, it is almost the only time my family gets together, but as you can see, this is mentioned three times in the above two categories. Lately, since I live out of town, our get-togethers are much more pleasant, but still very tiring, particularly for my grandma (who is now moving into a seniors care facility, at the age of 90).

In summation: I don't know where I was going with this. Very few people know what Christmas is about, slightly more know what Christmas has become, but only a tiny fraction are able to go against the flow. It's part of our culture, and soon we won't even know why, except when we get our credit card bills and wonder what came over us.