“Community” Delivers Outside the Box

At this time of year sometimes I find myself wishing that Elf would get Scrooged.

Some may suggest that this is merely a sign that I’ve wasted too many hours watching Christmas specials on TV, and I can’t deny it. I think I watch them, repeatedly, in hopes of recovering that twinkling sensation of Potteresque magic,  when the story was fresh and Hogwarts School cast its architectural spell in the minds of millions of impressionable viewers.

The wizardry of modern media is such that most of us have become numb to special effects. You see one apocalypse, you’ve seen them all. But at Christmas time, the inner child whines anew. Where’s my Christmas miracle?

I do think Scrooged comes closer than most of the other holiday fare to providing a kind of updated cocktail of cynical materialism and over-the-top Dickensian transformation, and for that I thank Bill Murray, whose performance ranks as one of the all-time best in the Christmas makeover category.

But, after you’ve watched it a couple of dozen times, you find yourself yearning for something new to provide that holiday moment when, okay, maybe you can’t and never were able to believe in Santa, but you could sort of embrace the concept of giddy hope that keeps the myth alive.

This year I found my measure of cheer in Community.

I was already a fan of the NBC show about a group of misfits in a struggling community college in the middle of anywhere USA. The show manages to avoid most of the clichéd tropes of the majority of sitcoms. With a light hand and nimble pacing the show both mocks and celebrates its characters, who are all struggling to find purpose or connection.

The central character, Jeff, a disbarred lawyer trying to make a new fresh start, is played by  Seattle native Joel McHale, so Seattle viewers were quick off the mark for this show. But what keeps me tuned in are the brilliant concepts and witty writing. And, of course, Abed, my favorite character, played by Danny Pudi with a kind of understated grace that slips past all my defenses.

So when I saw that the Community Christmas episode was called “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” I was ready to give it a go, even though it was created in stop-motion like the pathetic, albeit classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, never one of my favorites. But Community didn’t let me down. The episode is everything a Christmas special should be, and more, much more, including the wonderful John Oliver as a sort of Christmas wizard.

So, if anyone out there is weary of It’s a Wonderful Life, or simply can’t stomach another minute of Charlie Brown and his sad little tree, I suggest going online and checking out a Community Christmas. It’s special.

Why Doth The Fruit Fly?

If angels are sent here to guide us, and devils to lead us into temptation, what, pray,  is the purpose of fruit flies?

Do they exist merely to drive us insane? To make us question the existence of an all-knowing beneficent deity? Or do they, like reality TV “stars,” exist simply because in a universe of infinite possibility a spontaneously generated vexation is inevitable?

These thoughts swarm in my head as I’m sopping up the wine sprayed across the tablecloth, dripping through it to the floor below, staining my pants on the way. The fruit fly whose antic aerial maneuvers drove me to yet another hasty and ill-considered slap at the empty air, thus leading to this lavish spill, has since flitted on to riper fields. And I just want to know why.

Are fruit flies symbolic of the pointlessness of trying to rid the world of problems, when, it seems clear from the bludgeoning headlines, no sooner do we clean up one gosh-awful mess, or “wind-down” some bloody war, than two more spring, hydra-like, from the event horizon?

I don’t know. Maybe fruit flies have some purpose which, for reasons best known to the aforementioned all powerful deity, remain obscure to those of us cleaning up the spills and spoils. I shouldn’t complain. At least I have wine to spill. Maybe I’ve had more than my share. Could that be what that fruit fly is suggesting? What a nerve! I’ve a good mind to slap the hell out of that little pest! Here he comes again!

Crap. Could you pass the paper towels?

Yankee Go Home

(The following is an excerpt from my work in progress “Not From Around Here.”)

People who speak wistfully about the innocent pleasures of childhood give me a pain. Were these people never children? Did they never have to go out onto a public school playground during that hellish free-for-all called recess?

I have to assume that the law of averages applies to childhood experiences. Thus I can accept that for a certain percentage of the population the years between five and twelve offered carefree delights that vanished once the teen age began. But I never felt at ease in the company of other children. They’re so irrational. So unpredictable. So moody.

I certainly was anyway. I entered first grade in Falls Church, Virginia, shortly after we had moved from Pennsylvania, where we had been living for one year while my father tried to pass the bar there. When he failed, we returned to Virginia, where he went  to law school at UVA on the GI Bill. In Falls Church we lived in one of those “Wonder Years” kind of neighborhoods. Small one-story houses with three tiny bedrooms on small lots. Everyone had kids. The fathers went to work. The mothers stayed home and did laundry, cooked and, in some cases, counted the hours until cocktail time. The televisions were housed in cabinets and the screen was small and circular, and there wasn’t much on aside from the Walt Disney show and Ed Sullivan. At five o’clock every day all the kids whose families had TVs ran home to watch the Mickey Mouse Club. I envied Annette Funicello with her beautiful wavy hair and perfect smile.

By the time we moved there I had gained a couple more brothers, so we all shared rooms. But when my older brother and I started school, he quickly distanced himself from me; he could sense my nerd cooties emanating like some radioactive force field. I walked to school alone, whistling show tunes. In those days there were no ‘gifted and talented’ programs. If you were a kid who demonstrated skills beyond those of the rest of the class, they might suggest to your parents that you skip a grade. But the schools worried that children who moved away from their peers would fail to adjust socially. So they left me in first grade, where I had to steel myself to listen to dozens of my classmates stumbling courageously through sentences like: “See Jane run. Look at Dick. Jane knows Dick.” Yeah. If I hadn’t been a snide little bitch-in-training before public school first grade, I sure as hell soared to the head of that class.

As any geek who has survived public school can tell you, kids are savages, and the process of blunting their claws and muting their shrieks is not for the faint of heart. The teachers loved me, of course, at first. But that only made things worse for me with the squirming masses who saw in my innocent brown eyes and baby soft blonde hair a perfect target for ridicule. And, admittedly, I was, and for most of my life have been, gullible as hell. My brothers never tired of teasing me to the point of tears and beyond. Until the year when, in a flash of focused rage, I lashed out at one of my younger brothers and broke his arm with a single blow. I felt terrible about it immediately afterward, but the event did realign the course of our later friendship, as if I’d passed some unspoken test and proven myself not guilty of total wimpdom.

However, that watershed event hadn’t taken place yet when I first had to endure the rigors of recess in Virginia. At first, slinking out into the brisk sunshine of September on the bare asphalt playground, I looked around for some group of likely shields, a knot of girls perhaps, or, failing that, some chubby boy with glasses. The old safety in numbers concept is embedded deep in the human psyche; sheep gravitate to other sheep.

Unfortunately, the same group-think applies to the wolves. As I stood there trying to work up the nerve to approach a cluster of girls in poodle skirts and crinoline, a loud boy with the musculature of a future footballer and a glint in his eye that would make him a standout in any police line-up ran into me, and as I was regaining my balance he looked down at me as if just noticing I was there and said, “Are you a Rebel or a Yank?”

I stared at him. I had no idea what he was talking about. During my kindergarten year in Pennsylvania we had covered letters, numbers, primary colors and learned to sing “My Country T’is of Thee” but no mention of Rebels or Yanks had been made.

“What?” I responded.

The boy narrowed his eyes and looked me up and down, from saddle shoes to plaid skirt and white cotton shirt with suspenders. “Yer not from around here, are ya?” he said accusingly.

I told him we’d just moved to Virginia.

“Where you from?” he demanded.

“Erie,” I said, my lips barely moving.

“Where’s that?” he asked.

“Pennsylvania,” I said.

“Hah!” he barked. “I knew it. Yer a Yankee. A damn Yankee.” He reached out and shoved me, not hard, but enough to let me know that whatever a Yankee was, he wanted nothing to do with it. He ran back to his fellow hooligans, and I could see them hooting and pointing at me, as I stood alone, feeling, I imagine, as a gazelle on the African plains must feel when it notices the rest of the herd edging away and the jackals circling.

I waited until I got home that day to ask my father about the difference between Yankees and Rebels, and my father, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, told me that the Rebels wanted to keep slaves and the Yankees fought to free them. Simple as that. No gray areas, no muddling the debate with sophistry about state’s rights or Southern hospitality. Good old right and wrong, my Dad’s strong suit. He never wavered when it came to the fundamental divide. All his life he struggled with doubts about religion and politics and women, but he never doubted his instinctive grasp of justice. Whether or not he was actually right is, as they say, another story.

But as a child, up until the Nixon-Kennedy debates, I accepted my Dad’s views pretty much without a qualm. I loved my Dad. He was a good man. Ergo, what he said was true.

Armed with this conviction I returned to school and hoped that the issue would not come up again, but if it did, I was prepared to have a dialogue with my inquisitors and set them straight as to the error of their ways. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. What a ninny. Yet, you see, this is what I mean by the earlier assertion that I was never a whiz kid. People then, and now, assume that if you can read early, and you continue to read often, that you must, perforce, be acquiring some sort of smarts in the process. And, to a certain extent, this can be true, if you embark on a course of directed reading with someone knowledgeable, say, a college professor, or perhaps a talk show host – just kidding – guiding your analysis of the texts. However, mere reading alone is not a guaranteed path to wisdom, particularly if all you read is fiction.

Even as a child my passion for imaginary stories far surpassed any interest I had in history, math, geography, etc. However, that first year in public school in Virginia forced me to embrace a previously unknown field of writing. I became a philosopher. It may have been dormant in my crabby baby years, but it really got traction on the playgrounds of Westlawn Elementary, where for several years I endured hours of bullying torment and scathing social ostracism because I wouldn’t back down from my pride in being a Yankee.

This only got worse by the time I reached fourth grade and the school curriculum began to include months of indoctrination into the Southern view of what they like to call The War Between the States, which had, according to our textbooks, nothing to do with slavery, but revolved solely around issues of states’ right to do as they pleased without interference from some know-it-all federal government who only wanted to fund their own fancy lifestyle with taxes squeezed from honest Southern farmers.

In the first years of my schooling in Virginia, this view remained almost unchanged from textbook to textbook until in the early 1960s when the Civil Rights movement finally began to make some progress. When I started as a freshman in high school in Fairfax there were no black students in a school with three thousand students.  The next year we had half a dozen. They were from around there, but I suspect in that school they felt farther from home than I did.


I had thought I was finished with vampires.

You know how it is. One minute you’re obsessed with the whole ‘creature-of-the-night-immortal-love-hunk’ idea and the next . . . not so much.

And with the plethora of vampire-related novels, television shows, and films glutting the marketplace, it seemed inevitable that the mania for all things fangish would play itself out. And I was fine with that. Until I took one last bite. Now I’m ready for more.

Or rather, Moore, as in Christopher Moore, whose hilariously snarky Bite Me simply won my heart. Yes, it’s wildly inventive, raunchy and irreverent, as are all of Moore’s works. But there’s also a cleverly hidden soft delicious core of sappy goodness that—well, I’m a sucker for sappy goodness, what can I say?

It’s not a book designed to appeal to the masses, which is probably just as well. Nor is it likely to win any awards from highbrow literary types who sneer at pop fiction. But, you know what? There are times when I don’t want to read a book that’s going to break my heart, or completely hammer me with the unrelenting misery of much of the world. Yeah, I know it all needs to be fixed. But every now and then, we who hope to make things better need a break from all the angst and anguish. And for that, I’m deeply, truly grateful for Christopher Moore and his brilliant comic gift.

My advice for the world weary? Next time the news makes you want to do something unhealthy, try Bite Me instead. It may surprise you.

The Mongoose of Tomorrow

You lookin' at me?
You lookin' at me?

They cluster together, eyes bright, chins up, studying the mob staring at them through the glass.

And the meerkats stare back with equal intensity.

It’s Saturday morning at the Woodland Park Zoo and the facility’s newest stars, the meerkats, have already attracted a sizable crowd of jostling, jabbering, photo-shooting humans, eager to experience first-hand the meerkat mystique.

At first glance, the meerkats seem a bit small to have warranted the huge amount of attention the quirky species has been getting ever since the Animal Planet’s documentary series “Meerkat Manor” became a runaway hit. But watch them for a few minutes, even without an anthropomorphistically skewed voice-over track, and you find yourself wondering what’s going on behind those tiny pop-star eyes.

I haven’t watched a single episode of the TV show, but after seeing the little mob (a group of meerkats is called a mob) at the zoo huddled together in the glaring spotlight of their sudden fame, I felt an undeniable desire to protect them from harm. Yet although I understand the feverish desire of humans to save some of the animals whose limited existence is threatened by the unrelenting expansion and consumption of ours, it seems more and more hopeless as we hurtle forward. Species come and go. The planet, in spite of our best efforts to convince it to behave, does what it will — exploding, warming, cooling, sliding, flooding and frying. Humans excel at adapting. We move away from the heat, bundle up against the cold, curse the darkness, etc. But other species don’t seem to be equipped with as many tools. They scurry underground, climb trees, dive deeper in the ocean. Yet they can’t get away from us.

Around the world the argument continues to rage about whether or not humans are responsible for the global warming currently taking place at an unprecedented rate. But no one can argue that humans aren’t completely responsible for hunting many species into near extinction. Elephants, rhinos, tigers, and countless other high profile animals teeter on the brink. We’ve all heard the stories. Our zoos work hard to provide a kind of safety net for the most threatened species. But once it gets to the point where the only safe place for a wild animal is in a zoo, we’ve lost something irreplacable.

The meerkat, for all its current trendiness, is one of the lucky species. Its natural habitat is the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. Not a lot of human pressure on that real estate. No worries about global warming there. As long as we don’t discover oil under the sand, the meerkats have a fighting chance. And it doesn’t hurt that their diet of choice is insects, although they can also get by on scorpions if the larder runs low on cockroaches. Thus, a species with good odds for survival when the going gets rough.

Maybe that’s part of their mysterious charisma. If you look deep into their haunted little eyes you can almost see the future, after humans have gone on to the next phase or whatever.

Maybe we misheard the old saying. The meerkats shall inherit the Earth.

Sitcom Serenade

Does anyone else think that there are enough crime shows on TV? How about medical investigation shows? And am I the only person on the planet who loathes “American Idol”?

It could be argued that there are more despised forms of entertainment. Mimes are not universally appreciated. Serious poetry will always have an empty seat next to it on the bus. Some people don’t even like rock ‘n roll. But perhaps the largest number of people feel secure in dismissing the conventional half-hour-long television situation comedy as plebeian. I feel pretty sure most of the serious poetry  fans do, anyway.

Not me. Although I’ll be the first to admit that the vast majority of these lightweight vehicles fall far short of that brisk confection of wit and timing, subtly and slapstick, and keenness of observation which raise great comedy to a timeless art, there are times, in the best sitcoms, when all the elements miraculously come together and for a few brief shining moments we can be transported out of this world of woe.

Like many of my generation, I took to television at an early age, when the medium was still rough and raw and all in black and white. Pioneer days indeed. The sitcoms of those days, “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy,” and later, “Leave It To Beaver,” set the pattern for the next few decades, when other shows carried forward the sitcom gene code (Mary Tyler Moore), broke new ground (“M*A*S*H,” “Three’s Company”) and raised the bar (“Cheers,” “That 70’s Show,” and “Seinfeld”).

These days it’s tough to come up with a sitcom idea that hasn’t already had all the laughs wrung out of it. Yet each season plucky writers keep trying, and I salute them. But mostly, I sing of Chuck Lorre. The creator of such long running hits as “Two and a Half Men” was unknown to me until he launched “The Big Bang Theory” a year or so ago. The premise: four geeks live across the hall from a cute waitress. And, as they say, hi-jinks ensue. But the quality of those hi-jinks is a quantum leap from the “Lucy makes a mess of things again” type plot lines of fifty years ago.

To get a glimpse of the brain behind “Big Bang” I tracked down the Chuck Lorre Vanity Page site. ChuckLorre.com

You know how at the end of some shows, after the credits and just before the next ad, a block of text  flashes across the screen for about the time it takes to read the first three words and then it’s gone?  I was driving myself mad trying to read them until I found the site. Then, after reading a dozen or so of them, I felt that warm glow that comes when you find an author whose world view resonates with your own.

Not everyone will agree with me, of course. But for those of you who like a little noir with your Zen, a little crunch in your creampuff, or the occasional soupçon of irony in your viewing regimen, you might find “The Big Bang Theory” a diverting little detour from life as we know it.

Glee Fool

Glee is one of those odd words which conveys in one short syllable both a giddy positivism and its twisted darker side. It’s a slightly psychotic word.

Perhaps that’s why it’s so apt as the title of the latest Fox network hit, which revolves around the bright hopes and delusional romances of a group of musically gifted high school students and the Machiavellian machinations of the cheerleading coach determined to destroy them.

Gosh. If that’s not good TV, I don’t know what is.

Well, truly, I don’t think I would ever make the cut as a TV programmer, since every show I like tends to get cancelled after one season. “Freaks and Geeks,” for instance. Now there was a brilliant, funny, subtle show about the American high school experience. The cast in that show hardly every broke into song without irony. Ah well, at least many of them, such as James Franco and Seth Rogen, have moved on to illustrious or less lustrous careers in show biz.

The cast of “Glee” has already won a Golden Globe for its first season, which suggests that the actors may be stuck in high school for a bit longer than the customary four years. And I must confess, I do like “Glee,” in part because it’s so far removed from any reality I experienced in high school back in the pre-tech age, when a student could be sent home for wearing sandals, or a skirt which didn’t reach the knee. Back when “classic” rock was cutting edge.

But I digress. “Glee” is put together with the clear-eyed marketing savvy of a soft-drink campaign. Suffice it to say that in my day no member of the football team, much less the star quarterback, would have also been singing and dancing in the glee club. But in “Glee” the cast is a triumph of precision political correctness, with representatives from a rainbow of ethnic groups, as well as a token gay member, a few handicapped and a misunderstood diva in the Barbra Streisand mold before it set.

What prevents the show from being as insipid as a Pepsi ad is the gleeful venom of the antagonist, the cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, played with verve and crisp conviction by Jane Lynch, an actress who for years has added panache to standard sitcom fare such as “Two and Half Men.” It’s great to see Lynch enjoying herself in this nasty role. Without her, “Glee” would sink from the weight of its relentless power pop numbers and flashy dance routines. I mean, seriously, what are these kids doing in high school when they obviously belong on Broadway?

The answer, of course, is that they aren’t in school. It’s make-believe as far removed from reality as any “reality” show, only a lot more fun to watch.

That said, it can’t last. If I like it, it’s doomed.
Mwah hah hah.

Mythic Mountain

We’ve all seen it. On the news, in movies and cartoons. It’s a man-made icon of one of America’s most compelling products. Its image evokes a land of golden opportunities, bright stars and happy endings. And it’s threatened by development.

The Hollywood Sign has loomed in tilted splendor above sprawling Los Angeles since 1923. In the beginning, no one expected it to become a national landmark, much less a treasured symbol of an industry that markets dreams to the world. In a way, the Hollywood sign represents the imaginary romance of LA, in the same way that the Eiffel Tower represents the imaginary romance of Paris. At the time of its construction in 1889, many Parisians considered the Eiffel Tower an eyesore and a waste of money. Yet in time the city embraced the tower, and it became symbolic of all things French. In Hollywood, surely no one expected the 45-foot-high crude letters on a mountainside to become legendary, yet so they have.

In the eighty-seven years since it was first built as a temporary advertisement for “Hollywoodland” the sign has been restored a few times, most recently in 1978 when the original letters were replaced with steel thanks to the philanthropy of major Hollywood supporters including Roy Rogers and Alice Cooper. The sign itself is now owned and maintained by the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation. But the 138 acres of open space behind the sign which provide its dramatic backdrop are now threatened by development. Supporters are trying to raise 12.5 million before April 14 to protect the mountain on which the Hollywood Sign stands for all time.

It could be argued in a world like ours, where tragedy and chaos devastate lives with depressing regularity, that to put money and effort into saving a mere symbol of the creative imagination is frivolous, if not reprehensible. But I would argue that the human ability to imagine a better life, to hope for an end to suffering, to dream of a better future, is what enables us to continue fighting to mend our world. And Hollywood, for all its flaws, feeds the flames of hope all over the world.

You can say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

Glory Daze

It’s been a week since the Olympics in Vancouver ended, but I still can’t get that anthem out of my head. It seemed like every time you turned around somebody on a podium was getting misty-eyed as they lustily sang along to “Oh Canada.”

Why don’t we have a song like that in our country?

I know, we have a national anthem. But wouldn’t it be cool if it were the sort of song normal people – not necessarily trained in light opera or gospel powerhouse – could sing?

Controversy over national anthems is nothing new, of course. Even in Canada apparently they’ve had long-running debates over the translation of their anthem (the original was in French – mon dieu!; and they also have an Inuktitut version). Here in the fractious United States there have always been champions of other anthem contenders such as “God Bless America” – the easiest to sing by far, “My Country T’is of Thee” – the first patriotic song many public school children learn, and my personal favorite, “America the Beautiful.” Over the years there have been nominations for a handful of other spirited songs – Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” among them. But in the land of the free-for-all and the home of the reckless, it’s pretty hard to get a consensus on anything, even something as seemingly innocuous as a song.

Yet the power of music to motivate and lift the spirit is undeniable, and for that reason the importance of a national anthem which the people of the nation can actually sing is not insignificant. During the Olympics we get a chance to hear the anthems of a variety of nations (or at least any of them who happened to be sharing the podium with an American, since our television coverage gives the impression that the only medals which count are those won by Americans – but that’s another rant).

I have to say that for the most part, the anthems of other nations don’t register with me. “La Marseillaise” is an exception, thanks in part to the unforgettable scene in “Casablanca” where Victor Laszlo leads the oppressed patrons of Rick’s Café Américain in a rousing rendition which drowns out the competing Nazi oppressors at another table. A minor victory, perhaps, but a telling one.

Which illustrates the problem with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Suppose teams of singers were chosen at random from the spectators at a soccer game between the United States and France, and they had to compete in a simultaneous sing-off of national anthems. I think we all know what would happen. The US team would start off boldly, but the song wasn’t designed to be sung by average people. The melody swoops up, it swoops down, it almost never settles into a steady rhythm, and it ends with a killer high note. Thanks a lot, Francis Scott Key.

To its credit, TSSB is a stirring song. Like “La Marseillaise,” it’s a battle song, fit for football kick-offs and baseball diamonds. But, it ain’t hummable. Unlike that Canadian number. Man, there’s a catchy tune. Like a slow-moving train.

Here’s when it hit me. I was watching the men’s final of the curling event. Yeah, I know. I never thought it could happen to me, but you know how it is. You start by watching a few rounds, just for laughs, and then you realize that it’s a kind of prehistoric version of billiards crossed with shuffleboard, and it casts its own hypnotic spell. Plus there’s the pleasure to be had from any mystery, i.e., what the hell’s going on? The Canadian men were fighting for their first gold against a skilled Norwegian team who had generated a lot of media buzz due to their pants. That’s right. I said pants. When all about you are wearing sober black and you show up in harlequin red and gold, it gets noticed.

Anyway, things were rolling along in the sedate, some might say catatonic, way of the sport. A general air of civility and quiet was evident in spite of the growing excitement among the Canadian fans that they might actually make history. And then it happened. Sometime around the ninth end (a technical curling term), from the Canadian fans a soft sound grew as the familiar strains of “Oh Canada” rose on a fervent swell of national pride. This was unprecedented! Singing in the seats at a curling event? The players waited, bemused expressions on their faces, even the Norwegians, who by then could read the cursive on the wall, until the song ended, and a polite cheer went up.

This could never happen at, say, an American hockey match. And it’s not because we don’t all know the words to TSSB. It’s because the song wasn’t written for ordinary mortals to sing, not even ordinary mortals who’ve had a few beers and are feeling fairly invincible.

But “Oh, Canada” has the kind of easy-going, middle-of-the-road range that any child can sing. And it’s not about bombs bursting and rockets glaring. It’s about brotherhood and love of country. That’s all I want in a national anthem. At least until we can all agree on Bruce Springsteen.

What the Frack?

I have succumbed to “Caprica.”

I didn’t even put up a fight. As a former fan of “Battlestar Galatica,” the smashing Sci-Fi Channel series which set pulses racing with its taiko drums and noir attitude, I didn’t stumble unwittingly upon “Caprica.” I saw the slick ads in The New Yorker. I allowed myself to hope that the show might measure up.

And, so far, it’s not bad. The writers have a lot of compelling themes to work with – the uneasy alliance between artificial intelligence and humanity, the contested zone between religion and science, the limits of love and friendship in a world gone mad. The show is stylish, layered, and occasionally has the foreshadowing of those addictive drums.

But last night for the first time I heard one of the characters use the word “frack” as a verb to suggest—well, what we all assumed it meant in BG—a word that can’t be uttered on major networks. And it sounded natural in the fictional context. However, my own understanding of the word has irrevocably changed since I came across a story on the news wires earlier this week. The story by Associated Press Writers Marc Levy and Vicki Smith dealt with a drilling technique that has been used since the 1990s to tap natural gas fields.

The technique is called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” And all this time I had thought how clever the writers of Battlestar had been to get around the confinement of obscenity rules by inventing a brand new euphemism which had the virtues of being both explosive on the tongue and somehow suggestively smutty. Yet, it turns out, the drilling technique, which involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into wells to fracture the shale where the gas is trapped, produces a salty, foul wastewater too loaded with chemicals to be restored by conventional sewage and drinking water treatment plants. Hmm. Maybe the term is more obscene than I thought.

Of course, we all want energy to run our TVs and video games, not to mention the robots who will be doing our dirty work in the glorious future. But if our energy experts don’t figure out a better way to manage the millions of gallons of polluted water that fracking leaves behind, at some point in the not too distant future we may find ourselves well and truly fracked.