Popular Posts

Thursday, September 30, 2010

30 Rock: When it Rains, it Pours

I was delighted by this episode of 30 Rock. This was a really well-written and funny episode, and my quick reaction is that it was better than any episode from last season. Just a lot to love about this one:

Loved the use of guest star Paul Giamatti. His presence didn't detract at all from the show, and his mouthing Liz's lines during their play-acting was very funny.

Brilliant idea to have Tracy, rushing to get to the hospital for his wife's delivery, get stuck in the Cash Cab and face getting thrown out of the cab before they make it to the hospital. This storyline started strong with Tracy "werewolfing" himself in his room, where Grizz and Dotcom have taken away his phone and his mood ring. Tracy's not sure how he feels about that.

Avery is just a great character. Her joy in having a son (because all he girlfriends would be deemed wanting in comparison) and despair when it turns out she's having a daughter (she's concerned about her spatial reasoning and upper-body strength) were great.

Jack's tapes were great, especially punching and loving Lutz, as was his catch-all advice should he have missed a possible issue: "Find a woman named Liz Lemon, ask her advice, and do the opposite."

The return of Dr. Spaceman! "I have to warn you, my expertise is in putting babies into women." Angie: "I'm going to kill that man!" Dr. Spaceman: "You just described my morning." Gold, pure gold, every single time.

I hope Kenneth remains in the extreme background for longer. His Tracy mask bit was slightly funny, but they've shown too often that they can go too far with his character. He did have a great line on the phone with Angie, about the point of childbirth being to feel the pain of God's punishment.

I know it's only two episodes, but I'm really excited about what seems to be a real resurgence in 30 Rock.

Community: Accounting for Lawyers

I've made it clear that I love Community. I think there's a real danger that I'm letting myself get too excited for new episodes, leading to a higher chance of disappointing.

With that caveat, I found a lot to quibble with in "Accounting for Lawyers" (which is a great title, for what that's worth.) Personally, I've never been one of those people, who apparently exist in droves, that finds people dancing in ethnically-inappropriate fashions hilarious. So none of the pop-and-lock scenes really did anything for me, although I did chuckle at the lederhosen-clad Poppi Longstockings.

That the dance contest was a construct designed solely to further Chang's obsession with joining the group, and highlight its scary nature, was even more disappointing. I worry about Chang too much of a presence on the show, I don't think Community needs him.

Neither of tonight's guest stars really brought it, either. Rob Corddry just wasn't as funny as the normal cast, which is annoying when he's taking valuable time away from them. His "curiosity" towards Jeff was just plain unfunny. Drew Carey wasn't given a lot to do, but his "hole in the hand" bit seemed a little too weird for this show. It was a tad too surreal.

Still, there was a lot to like too, I don't want to sound like I hated the episode. Chevy Chase is still a top-notch physical comedian, and I loved him knocking over the champagne glasses. The chloroform scene was hysterical, especially Abed's plan to convince the janitor that they had all been chloroformed. My biggest laugh probably came when Jeff first met Corddry's character: "Tango!" "Sundance! (We worked for different partners."

Maybe by next Thursday I'll have figured out how to calibrate my expectations.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Running Wilde: Into the Wilde

I'm a little perplexed at the generally down critical reaction to Running Wilde. I think that many of them are just disappointed that it isn't Arrested Development. But that kind of thinking, when you get down to it, is really short-sighted and self-defeating. Running Wilde has flaws, like every TV show does, especially a first-season TV show, but it's at least an effort to do something with real creativity and intelligence behind it. Critics don't waste their time with stuff like Two and a Half Men because it's boilerplate and uninteresting week-in week-out. The consequence though, is that there is harsher criticism of shows that are a little short of brilliance than there is of shows that have no shot at being brilliant.

Tonight's episode of Running Wilde featured a lot of jokes and set-ups that I think anyone would laugh at. The confusion at the tree house, when everyone heard "coming down" as "calming down" leading to a pile-up on the ladder, was really clever. I also laugh reflexively ever time Fa'ad is on screen, with his (hopefully) fake chest hair and mixing-up his v's and his b's. ("We'll take my S.U.B.")

Running Wilde also displays an encouraging tendency to mix real emotional moments with hilarity. Migo breaks the news that Steve's father decided not to pay the ransom because the premiums on his kidnap insurance would go up, and then breaks into tears when he can't think of a segue out of the news. It's heartbreaking and humorous, which is a neat trick.

I think that if people (and the network, which has already shown an itchy cancellation trigger finger) stay tuned to Running Wilde, the chemistry between Arnett and Kerri Russell will really surprise them. Tonight's episode really only featured one scene with them, but it was a winner. Their argument-while-really-agreeing was perfect. The writers seem to have a handle on the characters' conflicted feelings; the obvious attraction and the underlying antagonism. It's a real treat to watch.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Norwegian Wood: Isn't it Good?

There's always a nagging little problem whenever you read a book in translation. You can never be sure that you're really getting the proper experience. It's especially bad if you're not loving the book. You're forced to ask yourself if you're missing something, is the writing here not as good as people say it is, or is it the translation? Is the dialogue as awkward as it is because of translation issues, or is that just not one of Murakami's strengths?

Unfortunately, I don't feel like learning Japanese just to answer these questions, but I think that some obvious strengths and weaknesses shine through despite any translation problems, and I'll comment on those.

Norwegian Wood is a story narrated in retrospect by Toru Watanabe, set in his college days in Tokyo at the end of the turbulent 1960s. Really though, the novel feels like it could have been set in any time and at any place. This might sound like a strength but it cuts both ways. The story lacks any real sense of place or moment.

This ambiguity of the narrative extends to the soul of its narrator. Watanabe is an unknown quantity throughout the novel. The reader never really arrives at an understanding of what he is about and what he feels and wants. Part of this is a conscious choice on the part of Murakami to make his central character a reserved, lonely person. (Although these traits are somewhat belied by the ease with which he gets women into bed.) Watanabe is a hard person to like from a reader's perspective.

The novel is essentially a love triangle involving Watanabe and two severely-damaged young women. Naoko is a friend from his hometown, whose boyfriend, and Watanabe's best friend, Kizumi, killed himself at seventeen. Naoko and Watanabe sleep together just once, and soon after she disappears, reappearing months later as a patient in a posh mental-health clinic. Midori is a girl with a dead mother and a dying father, and a habit for saying lascivious things. Watanabe wants to wait for Naoko to get better but he struggles to resist Midori.

Murakami too often lets the story drag by inserting lengthy and meaningless conversations that seem to add nothing to the story. This is not a long novel but it still feels a little puffed-up. His prose can be compelling, and he writes about sex in a way that feels realistic and is very powerful, but the reader can't connect with his characters enough to really care about the results of their pairings.

I don't like to spoil the plots of novels, so about the ending suffice to say that it left me cold, and I disliked the lack of resolution on some specific elements of the story.

On the positive side, if you want a half-Japanese girl on the subway to start chatting with you, I can vouch for Norwegian Wood's effectiveness.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Office: Nepotism

Just as with 30 Rock, a lot of people were disappointed with the last season of The Office. (I actually didn't really see a lot of the same issues that other people did, but what can I say, I'm a forgiving, warm-hearted guy.)

I haven't seen any critical commentary on "Nepotism" but I expect the opening will be pretty divisive but I loved it. To me it demonstrated the awareness the show has for who its characters are. I loved Stanley reminding the cameraman that he was falling behind and Ryan wrecking it with his self-promotion, Angela refusing to participate and Dwight of course making things uncomfortably weird for everyone else. The capper was definitely cameraman Toby's "well...it was better."

As for the show itself, I'm amazed the show hasn't done anything with nepotism before, and therefore encouraged that they can still come up with new stuff at this point in time. Michael's defense of his nephew in the conference room (spoiled when the kid shows up bearing just one pint of soy ice cream) was hilarious, especially his invocation of the previously-unknown "reverse nepotism" and the exasperated "that's as clear as I can make it" after his "Don't Bother Luke" logo confused everyone. And of course, the comparison to God hiring his Son was fantastic.

This promises to be a big year for Ed Helms with Gabe stealing Erin away from Andy over the summer interlude. Andy's idyllic Cape Cod, complete with an orca feasting on Gabe, was well-played by Helms.

It's a great sign when, at the start of its seventh season a show can still come up with moments that shock you and make you burst out laughing. Michael spanking his nephew in full view of the staff might go down as one of the best things they've ever done.

30 Rock: The Fabian Strategy

No picture because my computer is running slow.

Let's get this out of the way. Last season, 30 Rock was rarely at its best and many weeks it was only the third or even fourth-best show on NBC that night. There were still a lot of clever jokes, although more of them lacked the real punch to make you laugh out loud, but overall the season kind of devolved into a directionless, formless mess. I thought the season did end strongly with the surprise of Avery's pregnancy and the arrival of Matt Damon's Carol (although a gag in tonight's episode hints that we won't be seeing too much of him.)

Tonight's premiere was a strong debut which I will hope carries through the rest of the season. Right from the start the show was at it's rapid-fire best, with Liz's gynecologist's suicide and Jack's adversarial relationship and elk-tongue colored walls. Jenna's competence as a producer was surprising but inspired, and I was sad to see them close out that story line by the end of the episode. Jenna's character can be wearing if left to just throwing tantrums. I'd like to see them explore her character a bit more.

Is Jack Macbrayer going to be on the show every week? Is his quest to return to NBC going to be a recurring story? If so, I hope they stay away from the more absurd things they did to Kenneth last season. If I never see him braying like a donkey again I'd be okay with that.

I missed what Carol said to Liz when they did the 1-2-3 thing. Yet another reason I need DVR.

Loved Jack getting out-maneuvered by Avery, but very disappointed that we didn't see her at all. Elizabeth Banks is great in the part, and I hope she has the time to be a major part of the show.

Favorite line? I don't know, but I really liked Tracy telling Kenneth: "Of course, I'm going to need that tote bag." Also, Carol gets mad during Giants games because Geico has three different spokesmen, four if you count that Rod Steiger looking guy.

Community: Anthropology 101

Community is the show whose return I was most anticipating this fall. Its first season just clicked with me on so many levels. I loved the references, and the sly way they were incorporated into the plot. I loved all of the characters, and marveled at how easily any two of them could be thrown together in a credible and hilarious story. I loved Modern Family as well, and appreciate it's sentiment, but Community just felt more in line with my sense of humor.

I'm also scared as hell that it won't make it to Season 3. NBC can afford to take chances since it's in fourth-place, but you can tell they're really pushing the show to find a larger audience. Between this week's pre-premiere "Twittersode" (didn't catch it, so no comment) and the stunt-casting of the octogenarian of the moment Betty White, the network is pulling no punches. But with CBS moving Big Bang Theory to the same time slot, it's hard to forecast any increase in ratings.

Coming into tonight my biggest question was how would they possibly deal with the ramifications of what happened in "Pascal's Triangle"? I liked the Britta-as-Jennifer Aniston take, especially Jeff's backfiring counter-move and Annie's horrified reactions. Less appealing was Abed's absurd (even for him) rush to make things happen. I was pleasantly surprised by the group's breakdown (I'm not sure I've ever gasped at a sitcom before, but I certainly did when Annie hit Jeff. He deserved it too.) The arguments had some great lines, especially Troy defending his thesis that all cats are girls: "Have you ever seen a cat's penis?"

I like the idea of Anthropology as the study group's new course. It's a natural fit, since so much of the show, and all sitcoms for that matter, is a little study in human behavior. That said, I am relieved that Betty White was just in it for the premiere. Her schtick would wear thin over 22 episodes, although her little Toto remix thing with Troy and Abed in the closer did get me to grin.

Another character in danger of wearing out his welcome is Senor (or Estudiante?) Chang. Though I laughed at his playing on his last name for the neologisms "Changuage" and "Pocket Chang", his little Golem split personality act at the end was unfunny and gives ample ammunition to those who think that a little Ken Jeong goes a long way.

Moving forward, I do hope there is more fallout from the Annie-Jeff thing, as I don't buy that any group could just move on from that after a little speech, no matter how heartfelt.

One last note, I was able to buy the first season Community DVD on Amazon for only $17.99, which is a great deal.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Modern Family/Cougar Town

I was a little worried about Modern Family coming into tonight's premiere, because let's face it, there are reasons aside from alliteration that the phrase "sophomore slump" is a cliche. I was even more worried after the show opened on a relatively weak joke. But rest assured, the rest of the show demonstrated that my fears were way overblown.

I think my vote for line of the night goes to Phil's reassurance to Claire after she fears she's overreacting to the sale of the car: "No, I love it when you're human." Just a great line that really captures the dynamic of that relationship. That story line gave us the humor of the kids protests against the family night out, and the sentimentality of their bonding after the night goes awry.

The sale of the station wagon is just one of three great plots tonight. Gloria gets possessive when Manny brings a girl from school over, going so far as to deny the tastiness of her chocolate milk recipe. (Just add salt?) Meanwhile, Cameron goes behind Mitchell's back to get Jay to help with the construction of a play palace for Lily. This joke hit its zenith when Mitchell, trapped inside by a faulty doorknob, pops his head frantically out of the little windows.

If every episode is as strong as "The Old Wagon" Modern Family may well be headed to its second straight Emmy.

As for Cougar Town, I think here we see a classic demonstration of the dangers of the Big Name Guest Star. Cougar Town is never going to blow anyone away, but at its best its a light, breezy, but thoroughly enjoyable way to kill the half-hour after Modern Family. This light humor is encapsulated in tonight's "Movie Mashup" drinking game (a drinking game in that they drink while playing.) But as soon as Jennifer Aniston enters the scene as an incense-lighting new age therapist (who shockingly! isn't as put-together as she seems) the show veers off-course into overly nutty and ultimately unfunny territory.

If you tuned into Cougar Town tonight for the first time, give it another chance because you didn't really see it tonight.

I'm interested to see if the show will keep on using the (Still) Cougar Town title sequence. It's odd, isn't it, that a show is on the air with a title that almost everyone involved with the show hates?

P.S. I gave the hour-long legal drama The Whole Truth a shot tonight, largely because it's set partially where I work. The show's premise is that it will show cases from both perspectives and then go "beyond the verdict" to show you what really happened. (Of course, since this is all fiction, they're really just flipping a coin each week, but we'll let that slide.) The show is trying to do a lot in 42 minutes, and what's sacrificed is credibility or any sense of realism. I wouldn't suggest adding it to your schedule.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Running Wilde: Pilot

Critics seemed tepid at best about "Running Wilde" but I trusted the talent involved enough to give the pilot a look, and I'm glad that I did. What I was a thoroughly enjoyable, cleverly written comedy, with some definite room for improvement but enough going for it to keep me tuning in.

Will Arnett (GOB from Arrested Development) plays Steven Wilde, a trust-fund "kid" who begins the episode complaining that no one will come to the party he's throwing for himself to celebrate the Humanitarian Award he's giving himself. Wilde's sheltered life is maintained by his manservant/friend Migo, who seems to care about him for more than just his cluelessness about the cost of things. (Migo takes $100 for six Diet Cokes and doesn't give back any change, then later at a drive-thru cuts off the server before she can divulge the cost of a beverage.) A personal secretary named Mr. Lunt is also there, in a bit of a redundant role that the show might not need. Interestingly, we don't see anything of Wilde's father.

Keri Russell, who is a really beautiful woman, by the way, plays Emmy, Wilde's schoolboy crush turned Amazonian preservationist. She hears about the Humanitarian Award, but not it's facetiousness, and rushes to the states in order to convince Wilde not to let his father drill in the Amazon.

I like that the show didn't make Russell's character a saint. She's actually kind of a scold, which Wilde picks up on, leading to a nice exchange where Emmy asserts her moral superiority over Wilde, and her further superiority for not feeling morally superior. It's witty, and it's quick, and while it's not as layered as Arrested Development (at least not yet) it made me laugh.

Narrating the show is Emmy's daughter, Puddle (no explanation given) who hates living in the jungle and enlists Wilde in a scheme to allow her and her mother to stay. Obviously, Wilde is not a great co-conspirator, though he and his tiny-horse (they're actually more expensive the smaller they get) owning neighbor Fa'ad gamely plug their way through the con.

No one can say what comedies are going to be able to sustain their humor or draw a large enough audience to stay on the air. (I've always wondered whether Arrested Development would have languished in later seasons the way people think 30 Rock and The Office have, and how that would impact its place in the culture.) I'm going to keep watching Running Wilde because I want to see how the show wrings humor out of Emmy's efforts to better Wilde, and his efforts to convince her it's working.

Monday, September 20, 2010

How I Met Your Mother- "Big Days"

I chose How I Met Your Mother over House last night, partly because I was curious to see whether Carter Bays and Craig Thomas could be taken at their word that they recognized the deficiencies in Season 5 and were striving to correct them. (My other reason was residual dismay at the House season finale. I am not a Huddy supporter.)

"Big Days" is a promising start. The episode was more truly vintage HIMYM than just about anything Season 5 had to offer. HIMYM works best as a slightly-cracked version of reality, where the little comedic observations about life and relationships are punched-up with witty dialogue and a touch of the absurd. It also helps when there is real sentiment behind the plot-lines, but too much sentiment tends to become cloying and corny. Too often last year the absurd and the corny tended overpower the witty and the romantic.

It was gratifying that the premiere got off to such a strong start, with great banter between Marshall and nervous pre-wedding Ted. ("Dude, you fixed church!) Barney was also great tonight, and in less of a breakout crazy character kind of way. NPH had some great line reading tonight, such as when he told a cheese-crusted Robin "I must paint you!" and the whole "Dibs" conversation really worked. Barney also got to be a real person, mentioning his missing father without dwelling on it. Strong work from the writers.

Marshall and Lily got a traditional sort of sitcom plot tonight, but one that brought up some fairly relatable issues. (Marshall tells his father about the couples' efforts to have a child, which Lily thinks is over-sharing.) Marshall's response to Lily's "what-if-I-can't" fears is maybe a little too perfect, but that's who they've made Marshall, so it was at least consistent.

Spoilers: I enjoyed the fake-out with the wedding, even though this is exactly the kind of thing they've done a hundred times before. It worked though, what can I say? I really hope HIMYM is in for a big comeback this year, it'd be a same if they only got around to introducing the mother when there was no one left to care.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Freedom Review: Hurts So Good

Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” is full of heartbreak, cruelty, and pain. Its characters seem to invent new ways to injure each other on every page, often when their intent is just the opposite. When they are not hurting one another they will spend their time making decisions you know they will regret (many of which even they know they will regret) and that will do lasting damage to their consciences. Consider yourself warned: this is not a book for the faint-of-the-heart, for your grandmother’s book club, or for people looking to be uplifted by a story about the triumph of the human spirit. It is a bleak and often despairing look at human life in the twenty-first century. All of that may make “Freedom” a curious, and, given their history, genuinely shocking pick for Oprah’s Book Club, but it also makes it one of the best contemporary novels I’ve ever read.
“Freedom” concerns itself with the lives of the Berglunds, a family of four which moves from St. Paul to Washington, D.C. Patriarch Walter Berglund is a do-gooder conservationist who wants the world to realize the dangers of constant population growth. Wife Patty is a former All-American college basketball player who rebels against her emotionally distant and unsupportive State Assemblywoman mother by choosing to be a traditional housewife. Their children are Joey, a fiercely independent boy who abandons his family for his submissive girlfriend Connie, and Jessica, a coolly intelligent girl who seems to hold everyone to the same high standards to which she holds herself. Walter’s best friend Richard Katz, a musician’s musician perennially just this short of stardom, pops in and out of the action, wreaking havoc whenever it isn’t called for.
“Freedom” is more character-based than plot-driven, which is not to say that there is no story (this is, refreshingly, a rather traditional novel, with little to no artsy pretensions) but that the characters are our entry into the action. Every plot point is informed by their personalities, rather than a test through which we discover their personalities.
The novel divides neatly into sections. The opening is a soaring overview of the family’s history in Saint Paul, from Walter and Patty’s often poorly-received efforts to gentrify their neighborhood to the aftermath of Joey’s decision to move into his girlfriend’s family’s house next door. Subsequent sections are told from the perspective of the characters, including parts of an autobiography Patty was assigned to write by her therapist, which is nonetheless written in the third person. The only major character not to have her own section is Jessica, a curious authorial choice, and perhaps a disappointing, though understandable one. It could be extremely tiresome viewing the world through the eyes of someone who thinks they are always right.
By now I bet you are asking: what’s with that title? A little arrogant, no? A tad uninformative? Perhaps even a bit bland, so far as it goes? I admit I thought so too, and to some extent still find it problematic, but Freedom is indeed a central theme of the novel. (It’s just hard to think of other classic novels named so blatantly after their themes.) Each of the characters in the novel is seeking to exercise their freedom and become an independent self. Mostly they are trying not to be the people their parents’ were, and failing in spite of their best efforts. Patty, who thought her mother was a bad mother, overcorrects and smothers Joey with her affection (Jessica won’t let anyone over-love her) and eventually pushes him away, much like her own mother did to her through indifference. Walter’s father’s only consolation in life was that he wasn’t as bad a drunk as Walter’s grandfather, but he winds up being just as cruel to his wife. Walter subsequently avoids the drink altogether, but becomes just as much of a political crank as his father was, albeit in support of radically different causes.
“Freedom” takes a dim view of the nuclear family. Every family in this book is deeply flawed and each leaves its damaging fingerprints all over the next generation. The book is not quite deterministic, but argues persuasively for the importance of early influence. The families in the novel work as microcosms of society, where people’s individual selves are in constant conflict with the selves of other people. Franzen recognizes that one person’s happiness is almost certainly the root cause of someone else’s unhappiness. Walter himself doesn’t articulate this thought, but it might subconsciously inform his obsession with over-population. More people inevitably means more conflict in an economy of scarce resources.
It is too early to throw around terms like Great American Novel, timeless classic or masterwork; these are questions that can only be resolved by time. But “Freedom” is a serious work of art, a major attempt at grappling with life as it really as, and it is an impressive success. For all the pain, cruelty and heartbreak within its pages the thing that most suffuses “Freedom” is life. And there’s no greater compliment for a novel than that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recommendation: Ray Lamontagne

I don't write music reviews for a few reasons. For one thing, I don't know anything about music, my half-hearted attempts to learn the alto saxophone notwithstanding. I also don't listen to a lot of new music, especially not since the end of my unheralded college radio career. I've never really been a passionate music fan, following a band through their discography, celebrating their progressions or lamenting creative stasis. In short, I feel unqualified, but I do recommend music I like, at least when it's someone of contemporary relevance that I have just discovered.

With those caveats out of the way, consider this a full recommendation of Ray Lamontagne. I recently purchased his new CD with The Pariah Dogs (terrible name) "God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise." Lamontagne's voice is possibly a divisive topic in music circles, but I like it. It's a little reedy and thin, but with range. It produces an effect that's very appealing, it sounds like it's being perfectly controlled to keep it from getting out of hand. A lot of the songs leave you wanting more, but in a good way. The song makes you think the singer is going to soar or scream, but he never really does, and it's to his credit.

The songs here are not lyrically complex, but they manage to take topics which are well-worn with repetition and make you forget that they are cliche. If stuff like this got more commercial radio airplay, I would think a track like "New York City's Killing Me" might actually reach iconic status as the "New York is impersonal and cold" anthem. (As a commuter, I know I find it anthemic.)

The other real standout track on the album is "Beg, Steal or Borrow" which is just sort of your standard "desperate to get out of a small town, not do what my dad does" kind of song, but that voice manages to raise the song above it's subject matter.

I like Lamontagne, and it's least partly because I find it hard to think of people to compare him too. Of course, that makes it difficult to tell people what he's like. I would suggest listening to "Beg Steal or Borrow" on youtube to gauge your interest.

After reading this you probably understand why I don't do this that often.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Why are so many people reading this book?

That was the question that kept bugging me long enough for me to accept a copy of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo when someone offered me one. For months I had seen people reading it on the subway, on my bus ride, or carrying copies on the street and sneaking in a paragraph or two while waiting for the light to change. I'm always interested in what people are reading, and even though I have mostly forsaken the thriller genre, I decided I needed to see what was so special.

After reading the book, I still have the same question: Why are people reading this book?

Let's get a few things out of the way, because I'm not a snob and this isn't a terrible book. The story definitely has momentum, and you find yourself flying through the pages. (I read the book in about four days, mostly over my lunch break at work and on my commute home.) And the title character is an undeniably fascinating creation, a cipher with a serious anti-social streak and crippling issues with intimacy, who just happens to be a world-class computer hacker with a photographic memory. When she's in the story the book hums along quite nicely. There is also an appealing set-up for a mystery. The main character, a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist recently convicted of libel is hired to investigate a decades-old case of a missing girl. Nothing outrageously original, but perfectly serviceable for this type of novel.

Unfortunately, the negatives start to far outweigh the positives the further you get into the novel, and even worse, you keep coming up with negatives for as long as you think about the book. That forward momentum I listed as one of the book's strengths is really the only thing saving it from ruin. A moment's reflection and the magic is lost. The appealing mystery devolves into a nonsensical solution seemingly plucked randomly from the list of suspects. All of the characters behave stupidly and out of character when it suits the needs of the plot.

As for the writing, look, I don't expect Shakespeare when I crack open a thriller, and I don't need it to enjoy a book. I've read plenty of mystery novels where the prose was just adequate and never uttered a complaint. Here the prose only rises to the heights of adequacy intermittently. I have seen speculation that this is largely a translation problem, but that strikes me as a convenient scapegoat. The problem is that there seems to have been next to no thought put into the words on the page. Every thing is just plot. This happened and then this happened which meant this happened. There is no art to it or originality. The novel never creates a feeling of place or people. Everyone speaks exactly the same way, no matter what their age or disposition. The book reads like it took the author exactly as long to write these sentences as it does for you to read them, and that is pretty damning.

So, again, why is this book so outstandingly popular? I admit I am dumbfounded. Again, it is not a terrible book, I have certainly read much worse. But there have to be thrillers much better than this. (I don't expect literate fiction to dominate the bestseller lists, but more competently written thrillers would be a start.

Maybe I'm the strange one, but I tend to think of reading being different from other forms of entertainment, if only for the more significant time investment. I'll watch a stupid movie or a light TV show because, what the heck, what's the loss? But to spend the time on a book that isn't unique or special in any way, that has no art behind it, seems wasteful. When I'm looking to shut off my brain, and believe me, I know how valuable it can be to do just that, I turn on the television. I open up a book when I want to engage my brain.

Was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a fun read for a while? Yeah, it was, although the end of the story was disappointing to say the least. But there have to be better ways to spend your time.

P.S. I don't feel like going into specifics, but there is a lot of deviant sexual activity in this book, and it is handled in such a banal way as to be frankly disturbing. Also, and this is more of a complaint of the thriller genre, I get really tired of near-superman male protagonists that every woman immediately jumps into bed with. It's tacky and feels like wish-fulfillment through fiction.