Friday, May 30, 2008

The stupid, it burns.

I honestly didn't think it would work.

I had resigned to waiting for the internet version of the Season Finale of LOST but, at around 2 minutes to 9 PM last night, I decided to see if that non-TV TV of mine would somehow pick up ABC. As I flipped through fields of snows, I came across the usual: PBS, the Spanish channel, the religion channel, the Spanish religion channel, ABC, some WB rip-off...

Whoa, whoa, wait... ABC??

Reception wasn't perfect but, sure enough, I could watch LOST in real-time! Since I knew I'd be fairly unproductive over the next 2 hours, I tried to straighten my place up only to find that, when I did certain things - switching off my fan, shutting my bathroom door, breathing too hard - I'd loose the signal. So, I gave myself permission to veg.

I watched it and, while I'm not looking forward to waiting 2 more freakin' years for some resolution, I enjoyed it and at least they've answered a few more questions.

But seriously, did Jack have to die?

OK, I kid, I kid.

Anyway, my inability to move for hours at a time while lounging in front of the television forced me to:
1. be like most Americans.
2. sit through commercials.

As frequent readers of this blog (uh... me) are well aware, I'm not a big fan of American commercials. But, it had been awhile since I'd watched live television and, after having been free for so long from the constant barrage of blatant attempts at coaxing the masses into consumerism, even I started to believe that maybe it all wasn't as bad as I had originally thought.

I was wrong.

As I cringed my way through commercial break after commercial break showing ads promoting fast-food, erection drugs and so many reality shows that I was convinced that Hollywood had more-than-officially run out of ideas, I saw a promo for this...

I Survived a Japanese Game Show has begun shooting in Japan and will premiere TUESDAY, JUNE 24 (9:00-10:00 p.m. ET) on ABC. This unscripted reality/game show takes an eye-opening, behind-the-scenes look at 10 Americans - many of whom have never traveled outside the United States -- who are whisked away to Japan and compete in the ultimate Japanese game show...with hilarious results. The final winner will take home $250,000.

Guiding the American players through their stay in Japan will be Host/Interpreter Tony Sano (Spring Break in Japan, Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight), an American actor who is fluent in Japanese; a house mother and resident pot stirrer, Mamasan; and the witty Game Show Host Rome Kanda (Pink Panther, Saturday Night Live), who leads the contestants through all of the zany challenges.

The promo even uses The Vapors' "Turning Japanese", which isn't even about Japan. (It's about psycho ex-boyfriends which kinda reminds me of those couples who use "Every Breathe You Take" as their wedding song.)

Seriously, if I'm not excited about this show, I don't know who would be.

The sad part?

I so want Tony Sano's job.

UPDATE: OK, yeah...

I thought "Turning Japanese" was about masturbation, too.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Two New Articles

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Been busy working on two articles about Japanese summer festivals for a great new magazine called "Everywhere" as well as getting ready for a visit from Kanako, a friend and former Doc Brown stage assistant from Japan.

Anyway, here's a link to the 2 articles...

Everywhere Magazine: People: Matt Herold: Articles

And, if you happen to be a member of "Everywhere" (or you decide to sign up), give me a vote!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sono Jimusho ("The Office" in Japanese)

Around Christmas of 2004, after two long months of being forced to be a part of the scary-in-all-the-wrong-ways Halloween Celebration at Universal Studios Japan, a handful of the gaijin (non-Japanese) actors were forced by the powers-that-be to be part of something called "The Magic Christmas Tree Show". This included the actors playing Doc Brown, which included me.

The "show" started out as nothing more than a bunch of frustrated American actors reluctantly wearing some painfully gay band uniforms (that Universal had had in storage) and pushing around a Christmas tree on wheels (that Universal had also had in storage). But, after 2 weeks of "rehearsals" and an epic clash of egos, we invented some characters and gave it a plot. We even threw in a whole part where we'd do an exercise routine.

Yeah, classy entertainment.

Remarkably, it worked. In any other country on the planet, it would have been a disaster but, in Japan, they loved it. I guess there's something about tall, non-Asian guys exercising in uniform. Even these uniforms...

I'm the one on the left, with the cupcake on my head.

But all that's another story.

The reason I bring this up is because, during that time, the cast and I shared two guilty pleasures. The first: pirated copies of "The Apprentice". (This is something which none of are really proud of. Not so much because they were pirated episodes of "The Apprentice" as much that they were episodes of "The Apprentice").

The second: the complete DVD set of Ricky Gervais's The Office.

Between our shows, we'd quote Dave Brent and Gareth Keenan. We'd fight over who got to be "team leader", we'd call George Michael and The Pet Shop Boys "bummers", we'd point at nothing and say "Monkey!" before going on set.

Anyway, just as the Holiday Season drew to an end, we'd heard that there was going to be an American version of "The Office". Being the proud Americans we were, we all agreed that the American version would be total crap and that there was no way they could make it work.

Obviously, the rest of the U.S. didn't get our memo.

I did eventually watch the first episode and, while it wasn't bad, it just felt wrong. The British version has made such an impression on us, it was hard not to be biased.

But, after catching this bit Steve Carrell did on Saturday Night Live, I may have to give the show another shot...

One of the writers has obviously spent some time in Japan. Pam giggling behind her hands, coworkers singing English songs in karaoke, 10 second hyper-commercials, robotic dogs. They even have an exercise routine. Classic.

Extra credit to the actors for actually speaking Japanese and for looking so much like Jim Halpert and Dwight Schrute.

UPDATE: A few Offices from around the world.

And Ricky Gervais goes to sleep in a bed of money.

Monday, May 19, 2008

For my Family Members New to the Internet

I give you (the aforementioned) LOLcats.


Feel free to use some of your cognitive surplus.

Lookin' for the mouse...

I don't have TV in my apartment.

I'm not bragging or complaining. Nor is this a setup for a "Get Matt A TV" charity fundraiser. (A Television Telethon?) I'm just saying it because nobody believes it.

The main topic of conversation among my current crop of American friends always seems to be "What was on last night". Alas, when I have to opt out of a chat because I missed the latest episode of "Two and a Half American Idols Dancing with Big Brother in Smallville: CSI" because I don't have a TV, people don't seem to know how to handle it.

Them: Wait, what?? You don't have a TV?
Me: Nope.
Them (horrified): Then... how do you... you know... watch? Television??
Me (somewhat embarrassed): I guess, I just... don't.
Them: ...
[Stunned silence as they take a few cautionary steps back, clutching a TV guide.]

(Disclaimer: OK, I do actually own a TV. It's a 13-incher that my brother was going to throw out, but I'm using it as nothing more than a monitor for my video camera and place to hang socks so, it doesn't really count.)

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not against TV per se. I can't be. I'm an actor. I even have a degree in Mass Communications (which is being used as much as my brother's TV). And there are some really great shows out there - 30 Rock, Dexter, Daily Show, Heroes, LOST (season 4 finale already??) to name a few - but I don't need a TV for them.

I've got a nice computer with a great display, a fast internet connection and a Netflix account which means I can watch all of these shows commercial-free (albeit after the fact) and at my convenience. I really think that more and more people are going to catch on to this type of viewing. The outdated model of being at the mercy of programmers and the mythical Nelson families has got to go.

Anyway, I've had a few realizations the past few years that have led to my current state of TVlessness. The first, and most important, of these occurred in Japan:

1. When I only have around 15 channels to choose from - 13 of which are brightly colored and pretty much incomprehensible - I spend more time doing other things.

Makes sense, right? I did more in Japan, despite a busy schedule at work and little free time, than I did here in Seattle with no job and tons of free time. A lot of that was the result of me taking TV out of the equation.

2. American TV has waaaay too many commercials.

I first sensed this in Japan. Occasionally they played American shows on Japanese TV. Every few minutes there would be an odd fade to black before the show would resume. I eventually realized that these were the places where, back in America, there would have been 5 minutes of commercials. (Japan seemed to play most of its commercials between shows.) I was always surprised at how many commercials I was supposed to be sitting through.

This realization really hit home during a one-month vacation back to the States at the end of my third year in Japan. After years of Japanese television and months of getting caught up with LOST via the internet, I finally got to watch my very first "real-time" episode.

Here's the setup! Here's the hook! Here's Sawyer's sarcastic reaction! Here's the big floaty LOST title! Here's a... commercial? For "Cialas"? What's "Cialas"? (watches commercial) Ugh.

I sat in frustrated awe at just how many damn commercials there were, stretching a show which normally took me around 40 minutes to watch, into a full hour. Even worse, some of the commercials were repeated 2 or 3 times in a row. ("Fine! I'll buy a Blackberry! Enough with that song!") I can't imagine that such repetition would work, but it must. Which reminds me...

Read my blog.
Read my blog.
Read my blog.
Read my blog.
Read my blog.
Buy a Blackberry.
Read my blog.

3. Most TV shows are crap.

This one wasn't hard to figure out, I just had to turn on the TV.  And can we stop with all of the reality shows?? I once had an idea for a movie screenplay that revolved around the filming of a reality TV show. I never wrote it because I figured that, by the time I was finished with it, reality TV would be a thing of the past. That was in 1998.

You may argue that most of this crap is only on network television but I think cable is no better.  There was a time when there were no commercials or reality shows on cable but not any more. Cable television provides an unlimited selection of bad shows from a very limited palette of ideas presented via a passive medium that promotes further passivity. No thank you.

Yet a lot of people still watch. Why? My brother Ken and I think that a lot of it has to do with it being a release after the daily grind of the 9 to 5. This seems reinforced by the fact that neither of us have traditional jobs and neither of us watch much television. But, another reason I think people keep watching is because:

4. American commercials breaks are tailor-made to make you unproductive and to keep you watching TV.

After I returned from Japan, I came to Seattle to apartment-sit for my brother. It was a tough time for me. I missed Japan, I was deep in the throes of reverse-culture shock, my pile of notes and photos was overwhelming and the sun was setting around noon. So, I watched a lot of television. Actually, I only tried to watch a little television but it never worked out that way. It usually went something like this:

  • The last part of the show I was watching would play in a way that made me think there was more. (Or there'd be the promise of scenes from next week.)
  • There'd be a quick commercial break.
  • The credits would fly by as they'd play the preview or do one last joke.
  • They'd immediately cut to the start of the next show, always opening with a hook, something overly-dramatic, a "body floating in a pool" sorta thing.
  • David Caruso would deadpan something witty like, "Shouldn't eat before swimming" or "Hot fun in the summertime" and then put on his sunglasses.
  • Roger Daltry would scream, "YEEEEEAAAAAARRRRRHHHHH!"
  • The Who would play "We won't get fooled again" as another show began and another hour wasted.

Next thing I know, BAM, I've just watched 8 hours of television. This is highly unproductive and not conducive to writing a book, leading a healthy lifestyle or maintaining a basic level of hygiene.

So, instead of losing the uphill battle to a medium scientifically-made to keep the viewer unproductive, inactive and helpless to walk away, I've just chosen not to own a television. Problem solved.

So, taking all of that into consideration, I think you'll understand why the following lecture struck such a chord with me. It's around 16 minutes but well worth it.

So hey, it turns out that all of my blogging is not stalling, I'm actually "deploying some of my cognitive surplus"!

Then again, maybe I really should get a proper TV and some cable.

Otherwise, I'd miss stuff like this...

With commercials.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

So that's why I moved to Seattle...

What a day today!

Yesterday, after months of a winter that just would not seem to end, the temperature in Seattle finally broke into the sweet, glorious 80's. Hell, we even had some humidity!

So this morning, after a few hours of a level of productivity that surprised even me, I slapped on my new jogging shoes, tossed a beach towel into my backpack and went and jogged over to and around Green Lake.

Man, I love running in hot, humid weather! Perhaps all those years of exercising in Florida has fried my brain but today's run felt the way jogging should feel: hearty, like doing jumping jacks in a sauna.

And when I stopped my run, it wasn't just because the sweet siren voice of my Nike+ iPod told me my workout was complete (oh, how I pine for you, "Female Spoken Feedback"!), I stopped because I had finished my run. None of that "Well, I'm not even sweating, I guess I could keep going another mile or so" BS. It was more of a nice, healthy "Must. Collapse."

Anyway, Seattle was out en masse and parts of flesh which hadn't seen sunlight since mid-2007 were on display in all their pallid glory. So, after my jog, I found a nice patch of soft grass in the shade of a robust pine (I got enough sun yesterday) and settled in for some Grade-A people watching.

Where I sat presented me with a picture-perfect view of the lake, framed by two clumps of trees and underlined by the jogging path. I even had a view of the Space Needle stuck in the horizon like a meat thermometer. (Although, it could have been a cell tower. I didn't have my contacts in.) Naturally, my good camera was at home so I couldn't grab a proper picture, but here is a poor representation snatched with the rudimentary camera on my Motorola RAZR-POS phone...

You can hardly tell from the picture that the surface of the lake is dotted with dozens of paddle boats and swans (and you can't even see the Space Needle) but you get the idea.

Anyway, there was a steady breeze rolling off that lake that was as heavenly as it was constant. (If only it would last as long as winter had.) As I sat there enjoying the weather and watching Seattleites pass, I realized that, thanks to a geeky few, rollerbladers have a bad rap. I mean, it's gotta be good for you, right? Easy on the knees and all that. So, I promised myself that, were I to see a cool rollerblader that day, I'd consider taking up the sport.

Here are a few other observations from this afternoon:
  • Guys with those bicycles tricked out to look like Harley Davidson motorcycles inevitably have tattoos or mullets. Or both.
  • People who still use roller skates somehow manage to look like they just left an actual roller rink, circa 1986.
  • Sundresses rock.
  • Baby carriages, which once were modest and foldable and kinda resembled a pair of Siamese-twin umbrellas, now appear to have been mated with bikes and SUVs. OK, I get the cup holder and all, but honestly.
  • While 2 wheels on a skateboard may be better for your core muscles, 4 wheels will keep you from looking like a complete idiot.
  • Bikinis rock.
  • My theory about tennis shoes appears to be holding up.
  • While everybody seemed to be in a remarkably good mood, nobody seemed willing to make eye-contact with anybody they didn't already know. Must be a Northwest thing.
  • The size of a teenage boy's bike seems to be inversely-proportional to how cool he thinks he is.
  • Bikinis and sundresses rock.
I could have stayed until the sun set but, after a few hours, an empty stomach forced me to pack it up and head home but, man... what a delightful afternoon. I think I'll sleep with my windows open tonight.

Oh, and I've decided not to take up rollerblading.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Fun Morning

Well now, this morning ended up being pretty fun.

I hadn't planned on doing much.  The Seattle Maritime Festival was today but last year's was so much fun for me that I didn't feel up for trying to outdo it.  Figured I'd just do some laundry, maybe run a few local errands, but my time walking around today ended up feeling like something special. It was the kind of day when even the songs on my iPod seemed to be playing along. The kind of the day that feels the way "Here Comes the Sun" sounds.

One of the highlights was my visit to the local U-District Farmers Market. I like that I've got a year-round farmer's market two blocks from my place.  Turns out that my whole area is highly walkable.  In fact, my place is considered a "Walker's Paradise" by the website Walk Score (updated link), which rated it 98 out of 100. (To give you some perspective, my last place out on Alki was 49 out of 100 whereas my parents' house in Florida only scores a 14.  Ouch.)

At the Farmers Market, I browsed the stands and had a really good burger (produced entirely from local businesses) for lunch. Even with the clouds, everybody seemed glad to be out enjoying the not-particularly-cold weather. Plus, there was the added bonus of it being early enough that most of the college kids were still home in bed recovering from a typical Friday night.

The whole thing felt like a community too. The girl making the crepes was godmother to the kid of the guy making the burger. After nearly 4 years of real community in Japan, I've been missing that feeling.

I found a nice place to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. A guy in glasses played some Bob Dylan on a guitar while I sat there and listened to all the people try to pronounce arugula. (Which was almost as fun as the time I sat outside a movie theater ticketbooth one weekday afternoon a few months ago so I could listen to senior citizens try to pronounce "Ratatouille".)

I'll be damned. I might actually end up liking living out here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Is it the shoes?

My brother's got a VIP card at Road Runner sports so I took advantage of it and went with him to buy me some new running shoes today. Finally. I'd bought my last pair in Japan a few years ago (sorry, knees) so, despite being the largest size I could find, they were a little snug (sorry, toes).

Anyway, the store had a cool setup where you could run barefooted on a treadmill hooked up to a video camera so that, afterwards, you could see slow-motion footage of just how weird your feet look running barefooted on a treadmill in slow-motion. Creepy.

Oh, and get this, my right foot is half-a-size bigger than my left. Go figure. (But hey ladies, you know what they say about guys with different-length feet? We're freaks.)

I ended up buying a pair of Adidas that, while streamlined and comfortable, look like they were made from doilies and lime Jello. Is it just me or does it seem that, the more technologically advanced a pair of shoes is, the more it appears to have been created by a very gay mad scientist?