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February 07, 2006 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-07

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Tuesday
February 7, 2006
arts. michigandaily. com
artspage@michigandaily.com

RSeidiigan tilg

The birth of a network
TV COLUMN MIDS-EASON REPLACEMENT

Courtesy of the Weinstein Company
Most awkward take-your-son-to-work day ever.
LOST I 'AN ATION
HUFFMAN'S ELECTRIC PERFORMANCE LIFTS 'TRANSAMERICA'

So long, UPN. Goodbye, WB.
In the past, viewers have been
graced with some of the most
original and innovative programming
(as well as some of the worst) in years
from the two little netlets that could. But
now there's only one. No, there is no
winner in the battle for fifth place, but
rather a tie. Enter the CW.
What is it?
It's the new network that
will combine the best pro-
gramming from both the
WB and UPN in an attempt '
to finally be a real player
in the world of network
television. From the looks
of it, UPN will control the
merger, not the WB. UPN
had the superior ratings this A
season, though both net-
works have incurred losses, ROTT
and its president will carry
over to the CW.
But many viewers will be left in the
lurch when the dust settles.
UPN and the WB started out as niche
stations, primarily catering to minority
and teen audiences. These two groups
of viewers are consistently ignored by
the major networks, and the pair of
netlets provided a safe haven for these
types of programs. While some shows
featured in the early days don't exactly
elicit fond memories (UPN's "The
Secret Diaries of Desmond Pfeiffer"
rings a bell), many great, albeit lowly
rated, series emerged.
Truthfully, my fondness for UPN is
somewhat small. They began to spe-
cifically peddle middling sitcoms and
new "Star Trek" series. Their biggest
hit until this past year was profes-
sional wrestling. "Veronica Mars" is
the first show to be called the next
"Buffy" that actually lived up to the
hype, and "Everybody Hates Chris"
managed to find a perfect formula of
laughs and heart.
The WB, on the other hand, found
more of an identity than its counterpart.
That image may have been closely linked
to teen drama, but many of those series
grew beyond the confines of their target
audience. I'll bite my tongue and not
write the rest of this piece expounding
the virtues of Joss Whedon's two mas-

DA
'ET

terpieces ("Buffy" and "Angel" for those
not in the know), but it should be known
that these incredibly offbeat works would
never have been created without an
upstart network like the WB.
And here is the CW. One look at
the press materials and it becomes
pretty clear that the schedule is already
extremely crowded. If they
simply bring back what
they deem the best of both
worlds and only air original
programming five nights a
week, then there may only
be one or two empty slots
for a new series. This is a
glaring problem, especially
when the whole point of
merging the networks
AM seems to be to compete
with the big boys. Even the
NBERG best ratings of the WB and
UPN would easily be con-
sidered putrid by the big four.
The nice thing about the WB and
UPN was that they attempted different
types of programs. More often than not,
they failed. But in the rare case where
they did succeed, it provided viewers
something that network TV couldn't.
Now, it doesn't even look like the
CW would try anything different.
They seem content to let the critical
darlings stay on the network until they
have the necessary pilots in place for
the following season.
While it's great that the CW has
faith in a great series like "Veronica
Mars," I feel as if it's all going to be
short-lived. The CW doesn't want to
be a small-time player. The whole rea-
son for the merger was to expand the
marketplace and the number of sta-
tions broadcasting this programming.
They wouldn't pump this much money
in to continue airing programs other
networks would deem ratings poison.
The current slate of shows looks
transient. I get the feeling that next year,
we'll see a fall schedule filled with the
same run-of-the-mill sitcoms and pro-
cedural dramas that fill its competitors'
primetime blocks.

I

By Andrew Bielak
Daily Arts Writer
At its core, first-time director Duncan Tucker's
"Transamerica" is a struggle between two different
films. One is essentially a vehi-
cle for "Desperate Housewives" Transamerica
star Felicity Huffman, whose At the State
transformation into the trans- Theater
gender telemarketer/waitress
Bree delivers one of the most The Weinstein Company
powerfully affecting and out-
right hilarious performances of the past year. The other
is a well worn, emotionally uplifting tale of redemp-
tion and acceptance, comfortable with its big heart and
message of tolerance yet lacking the sense of tragedy
or urgency embodied by its female lead. Thankfully,
it's the former that wins out, as Huffman's courageous,
vulnerable Bree doesn't carry the film so much as she
lugs it up Mount Everest on her back.
The action begins in Los Angeles, where Bree

awaits psychiatric approval to complete the final
surgical step of her physical alteration. After she
receives a phone call from an incarcerated New York
teenager named Toby (Kevin Zegers, "Dawn of the
Dead") who claims to be the son of her former, male
self, Bree is informed by her psychiatrist (Elizabeth
Pena, "Rush Hour") that she won't get permission
for her surgery unless she flies cross-country and
contacts the boy.
As it turns out, Toby is somewhat of a troubled
soul, surviving day-to-day as a drug addict and pros-
titute, and Bree feels obligated to bail him out and
acquaint herself with the son she never knew she
had. Rather than reveal her true relation to Toby,
Bree masks her identity and passes herself off as
an evangelical Christian who aims to reform Toby's
morally bankrupt ways. When the boy says he wants
to make a living as an actor on the west coast, Bree
offers him a free ride, and the cross-country road trip
bonding gets fully underway.
The awkward, guarded relationship that develops
between the two fractured characters - shrouded in
a multitude of muddled histories and half-truths -

develops at an achingly slow pace, but pays off with
its eventual poignancy. Bree's newfound parental
role is both absurdly comical and painful to watch,
and Huffman juggles the character's sense of cali-
brated femininity and bubbling insecurity deftly.
With stop-offs at both Toby and Bree's child-
hood homes, the film attempts to connect the
duo's equally troubled histories. Unfortunately,
the characters that occupy these spaces - rang-
ing from Toby's sexually abusive stepfather to
Bree's eternally scornful mother (Fionulla Fla-
nagan, "The Others," in an absolutely hysterical
role) and passive father - fail to break out of
typical cinematic stereotypes.
"Transamerica" functions exceptionally well as
a meticulously detailed character study, but it con-
cedes some of its emotional weight in an attempt to
cover larger themes of familial discord and forgive-
ness. Still, Huffman's breathtaking performance
- and the infinite moments of tragedy, humor and
empathy it elicits - not only makes "Transamerica"
a fine film, it makes its star worthy of some serious
Hollywood hardware.

- Rottenberg is gravely concerned
about the future of "Girlfriends." E-
mail him at arotten@umich.edu.

Guy-girl rocker pair provide tense Americana tunes

By Kimberly Chou
Daily Arts Writer

After playing cello with Belle and Sebas-
tian for a few years, what else is a pixie-waif
songstress to do besides cut a record with a
grizzly ex-frontman?
Write some dark, ethereal folk-pop num-
bers with Tom Waits in mind, arrange a Hank
Williams classic with female vocals and
maybe get her bangs trimmed to look more
like '60s mod goddess Twiggy.
Since V2 Records released Isobel Campbell
and Mark Lanegan's EP, the pair has finished

its first full-length album, Ballad of the Broken
Seas. A classic combina-
tion of cutesy pop-chick and
growly rock-guy, the duo Isobel
has elicited comparisons to Campbell
duos Jane Birkin and Serge and Mark
Gainsbourg as well as Nancy Lanegan
Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood.
But of course, Lanegan is Ballad of the
not quite the leery French Broken Seas
chanteur that Gainsbourg V2
was, nor is Campbell the
faint-voiced, yet wholly underrated Sinatra.
Campbell is clearly the mastermind
behind Ballad of the Broken Seas. She wrote
and produced the majority of the songs with

Lanegan's voice at the helm. Campbell is the
folk wunderkind; Lanegan is just the vehicle
through which Campbell channels her ideas
and the voice for Campbell's more mascu-
line lyrics.
The duo's musical style draws from rootsy,
down-home Americana, imbued with strangely
psychedelic instrumentation. Songs like the
delicately hymnal "(Do You Wanna) Come
Walk With Me?" feature drawn-out guitars,
piano and touches of mandolin. The wonder-
fully titled "Honey Child, What Can I Do?" is
based on a violin and cello background, but a
jangly banjo bit sneaks in during the outro.
Many of the songs follow a pulsing narrative
structure with the love-and-death-centric imag-

es of old Johnny Cash songs. Lanegan's grav-
el-heavy vocals only add to that effect, while
Campbell's twee lilt remains airy and distant.
On a handful of her tunes, there are no female
vocals at all.
"The Circus Is Leaving Town" sounds like
heartbreak at home on the range - and despite
Cambell's Glasgow origins, obvious influences
(Hank Williams, Johnny and June Carter Cash
and Loretta Lynn) permeate her music. Bal-
lad of the Broken Seas plays out like a movie
soundtrack, a stylish film noir splashed with the
gaudy bits of a spaghetti Western.
Though there's the risk of the album being
regarded as a novelty, Campbell and Lanegan's
ying-yang dynamic makes it seem as if they've

been at this for years. On the closing track, Lane-
gan's voice - once howling for the Screaming
Trees and Queens of the Stone Age - is bro-
ken down and weary. Finishing off Ballad of the
Broken Seas, the song is the best example why
Campbell chose Lanegan to sing her songs.

_____________________________ ______________________________ I

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