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January 29, 2008 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2008-01-29

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
TV/NEW~ MEDIA C(4'Y;.
For the love
ofHBO
and Meth
'm not exactly sure how we got here,
I but somehow AMC is now marketing
a television show about a terminally ill
chemistry teacher who cooks meth in his
underwear. Perhaps explainingthe absurdity
of this is unnecessary, but
things always look more.
important in list form, so
here it goes:
1. A year ago, AMC "
had aired a grand total of
zero - as in, one lessothan I
one - original dramas on
its network. However, MICHAEL
"Mad Men" debuted last PASSMAN
summer to largely posi-
tive reviews, and now the a
network's meth drama, "Breaking Bad," is
shaping AMC into a legitimate host of origi-
nal dramas. Considering AMC stands for
American Movie Classics, and the network is
so young it couldn't even lock down an amc.
com domain name, this is a tad surprising.
2. It's a show about meth. If there is a less
sexy drug than meth that doesn't double
as some sort of livestock tranquilizer, I've
never heard of it. Meth scares the crap out
of me and every non-rural human I've ever
met. Showtime's own drug-centric show,
"Weeds," was fairly controversial when it
debuted in the summer of '05, but Bryan
Cranston's ("Malcolm in the Middle") char-
acter in "Breaking Bad" makes Nancy Bot-
win look like Danny Tanner with hair.
3. It's a show about meth ... that's not on
HBO. How "Breaking Bad" exists outside of
HBO is beyond me. Perhaps the premium
channel goliath was leery of treading on the
territory of "Weeds" by developing its own
desperate-household-leader-turned-drug-
lord series, but "Breaking Bad" just seemed
destined for less-restrictive airwaves. While
it found its home on basic cable, the subject
matter and general grittiness recall "Six
Feet Under" and other HBO dramas, more
so than the typical basic cable drama.
Yet for all of the similarities "Breaking
Maybe there is a use
for commercial breaks
Bad" has to the prototypical HBO drama
- from its fascinating but difficult subject
matter to Cranston's surprisingly moving
turn as Walter White - there is something
decidedly un-HBO about the show's actual
incarnation, and I'm not sure whether it
aids or detracts from AMC's second original
drama. Like basically everything else, it's a
money issue, but not in an obvious way.
Although HBO's primary draw is its lack
of censorship, it also packs something almost
all basic cable networks can't get away with:
A commercial-free broadcast. Because the
network doesn't rely on ad revenue to keep it
afloat,itsoriginalprogrammingis essentially
break-free. But while this doesn't necessarily
benefit or subtract from its programming, it
certainly affects how the viewer internalizes
the product on some level.
Most people - including communists
- would agree that commercials are inher-

ently bad, but perhaps structuring episodes
around a series of breaks can actually bolster
the impact of the material. Whereas HBO
dramas are structured like hour-long films
that continuously build on the viewer, a basic
cable drama isn't afforded the luxury of a
continuous broadcast and must work around
a series of breaks mandated by the network.
If used correctly, these breaks can actually
leave the viewer pondering the events that
just transpired while Nissans roll across
the screen, which is something the viewer
wouldn't have been forced to do while watch-
ing something on HBO.
So while watching the pilot for "Breaking
Bad" last week, I continually found myself
analyzing the show and the depths Crans-
ton's protagonist was sinking to before the
episode was over. Conversely, while watch-
ing the most recent episode of HBO's "The
Wire," Iwasnever afforded any sortofbreak,
and had to piece everything together after-
ward. I don't know which broadcast form
had a greater impact on me, but I do know
there was a difference.
And even though TiVo and DVD box sets
have changed the way most people consume
TV, it can't be discounted that conventional
shows are made around commercial breaks
that HBO doesn't have to worry about. It
spans across genres, too, as comedies like
"The Simpsons" have prided themselves on
act-ending jokes, while HBO and Showtime
comedies are just working within an open 22
minutes.
So while I'd like to see "Breaking Bad" on
HBO for the content that isn't AMC-kosher,
I'mequallyinterestedinseeingthe showon a
premium network for the altered manner in
which it would have been delivered and, to a
slightly lesser degree, constructed.
Then again, maybe it's better as is - meth
labs get cramped without the occasional
break.
Passman is campaigning for
commercials on HBO. Give him your
signature at mpass@umich.edu

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 - 5

Preppy, sure. But who cares?

ype is a very, very bad thing.
Internet forums and music
blogs have the ability to build
up a new band before it even releases a
full-length album. The result is typical-
ly a crushing disappointment; an album
rarely living up to the expectations.
From that point forward, said band will
forever be referred to
in causal conversation
as "a product of the
hype machine."
Remarkably, Vam- Vampire
pire Weekend has Weekend
avoided this catastro-
phe. Vampire
The topic of months Weekend
worth of buzz, Vam- XL
pire Weekend was
formed by Ezra Koe-
nig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij and
Chris Tomson in early 2006 while the
four were students at Columbia Univer-
sity. Often, the great success of a band's
first album is the product of years of
anonymity, personal investment and the
creative ambition of its members' lives.
But this isn't the case with Vampire
Weekend's self-titled debut, a record
seemingly born of explosive chemistry.
The group's youth and the album's
sheer beauty also defy this logic.
Described simply as indie rock by some
and as "Upper West Side Soweto" by the
band, Vampire Weekend is a nightmare
to discuss. To call it an eclectic album
would be an understatement - each
song owes little to the one before it, and
each track has its own distinctive fla-
vor. The only constant is Koenig's high,
clear voice and the disc's intellectual
lyrics.
The debut single, "A-Punk," was an
obvious choice, as it is easily the album's
most approachable track. The song's
bouncy, poppy ambiance and straight-

them - it's irony.
Vampire Weekend isn't always this
arrogant, though. The group can be,
and often are, sweeter and simpler. Lyr-
ics like "How am I supposed to pretend
/ I never want to see you again?" from
"Campus" easily endear Vampire Week-
end to the college crowd, showing a
more human side in an album that might
otherwise seem like an endless litany of
haute hotspots and Ivy League preten-
sion.
Unlike many other indie-rock
releases, the middle section of Vampire
Weekend is brimming with unusual
instrumentation and rhythms. "Cape
Cod Kwassa Kwassa" has an East-Coast
bohemian meets West African feel, with
its reggae hiccups and syncopated bon-
gos. The light percussion on "Oxford
Comma" buoys Koenig along as he sings
over a pulsing, funky keyboard line. The
opening notes of "Bryn" almost sound
like a reined-in Celtic reel, leading into
the sweet lyrics, "Oh Bryn / You see
through the dark / Right past the fire-
: ORTEsYoF XL flies that sleep in my heart."
Vampire Weekend will almost cer-
tainly draw comparisons to other pop
greats. Does the group sound like Paul
ype Simon or the Talking Heads? Ultimate-
ly, the comparisons don't work here;
Vampire Weekend demands a listen on
its own merit. In some ways, the band
succumbs to every indie-rock cliche
- the album is often wory, snarky
and cutesy. But it works. It's dynamic,
Ott," Koenig polished and, though it's almost dan-
a shit show gerous to.say so, original. After a few
Out of Cape listens, when Koenig sings, "Don't you
unabashed know that your life could be lost / Out
.e to loathe at Cape Cod tonight?" the sarcasm runs
it would be off, and it's clear there's a wealth of skill
this kind of and genuine sensitivity in these songs,
the land of whether their authors came from prep
ou're one of school stock or not.

Like the Beats. Only not cool. Or daring.

Columbia grads live up to the h
with 'Upper West Side Sowet
By Caitlin Cowan Daily Arts Writer

forward structure are adolescent and
familiar. While "A-Punk" might seem
intended for insiders when Koenig
namedrops Washington Heights, Sloan-
Kettering and the Hudson River in the
song's mere two minutes, the song's
sparkly riff and hissing high-hat smooth
over the lyrics and make it instantly lik-
able.

On the singsong "Walct
declares, "The bottleneck is
/ Hyannisport is a ghetto /
Cod tonight." This kind of
hipster ethos has led som
the band from the start. But
far too easy to be put off by
haughtiness. Trash-talking
the rich isn't arrogant if yi

ARTS IN BRIEF

MUSIC
Latest electro-pop
group falls flat
Battle Royale
"Wake Up, Thunderbabe"
Afternoon Records
Calculated electro-pop is every-
where these days. While some
bands - such as DFA-records
founder James Murphy's LCD
Soundsystem and English punks
Hot Chip - have spearheaded the
movement with soundly original
releases, the majority of up-and-
coming electro-pop groups have
fallen short. The Battle Royale
fits decidedly into the latter cat-
egory. The Minneapolis-based
quartet's sophomore release,
Wake Up, Thunderbabe, is a quirky
and abrasive dance-punk album
amped up on youth and adrena-

line. Their latest release offers
a mix of fast-paced sugary beats
("Custom Clothes"), synth-driven
soundscapes ("Confessions Pt. 2")
and softer acoustic tracks ("Let's
Leave").
The first half of the album is
held together by an over-used syn-
thesizer, while the record's closing
tracks are defined by simple acous-
tic strings and breathy vocals. The
album progresses through these
various musical developments,
allowing most of the tracks to blend
together into a homogenous mish-
mash of musical experimentation.
Unfortunately, these attempts fail
to produce a wholly original record,
leaving th.e album plagued with
overused beats and strained vocals.
Despite The Battle Royale's formal-
istic approach to the electro-dance
phenomena, Wake Up, Thunderb-
abe still offers a solid collection of
jumpy beats and shake-your-ass
rhythms.
SASHA RESENDE

"To Catch a Predator: Kitty Edition"

DEATH BY
A MILLION CLICKS,

By ANDREW LAPIN
For the Daily
A killer thriller is only as good as its
concept, and "Untraceable" hits us with
a doozy. The film dares to reach into the
darkest corners of the Internet - those
omnipresent "shock
video" sites featuring raw **
footage of actual deaths -r
and forces us to question Untraceable
our morality for watch-A
ing them. As websites like At Qualityl6
LiveLeak become increas- and Showcase
ingly popular online, it's Screen Gems
tougher to know when the
line has been crossed, and this uncertainty
about being desensitized to Internet vio-
lence is what makes "Untraceable" such a
timely film.
The plot centers on a fictional website
that may not be far removed from reality.
on killwithme.com, an unseen creep posts
a live video feed of a kitten slowly being
baked to death. This site is brought to the
attention of FBI agent Jennifer Marsh
Just when you thought
the Internet couldn't
get any worse, they kill
a kitten
(Diane Lane, "Under the Tuscan Sun"), but
she doesn't take a full interest in the case
until the first human victim appears, bound
and gagged with a deadly, acidic substance
being pumped into his veins. The killer has
rigged this diabolic contraption to increase
the dosage as more people log on to the
website, thereby making the American
public, as another agent puts it, "an accom-

plice to murder."
Try as it might, the FBI is unable to track
down the webmaster. He has discovered a
way to hack into international IP address-
es that restart the website every time it
shuts down, thereby making himself, yes,
untraceable. However, the question of how
the FBI finds him and brings him to justice
is not nearly as interesting as the question
of why his website is so successful in the
first place. Some viewers willno doubt find
it implausible that this site could register
millions of hits so quickly, but from a cer-
tain perspective, it makes sense. After all,
it's attracting the same people who turned
"2 Girls 1 Cup" into aviral phenomenon last
year.
It's really too bad, then, that "Untrace-
able" is ultimately satisfied with being a
procedural drama. We follow the cops as
they track leads, peruse old videos, break
down doors and question suspects. Jen-
nifer Marsh, a single mom with an impos-
sibly cute 8-year-old daughter, puts her
family in jeopardy by staying on the case.
There's also a humorous sidekick (Colin
Hanks, "Orange County") and a gruff
detective who is initially cold to Jenni-
fer, but cares more than he lets on (Billy
Burke, "Fracture"). And when we meet the
evil mastermind, he is more than under-
whelming.
The Internet is a powerful device, and
"Untraceable" is a noble attempt to tap
into the dramatic potential of a story like
this. Since the killwithme.com site is such
a profoundly creepy idea, certain aspects
can be overlooked, such as moments where
the film drags on or where the charac-
ters do some very stupid things. (Note to
FBI agents: If you're driving somewhere
in stormy weather, check the 'backseat
of your car for murderers.) Even though
"Untraceable" sets itself up for more than
it can deliver, the concept alone is strong
enough to linger long after the movie has
ended.

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