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Test Pattern: Five-link Friday

Pop culture, TV and Web news from Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
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March 12, 2004 |

Five-link Friday

Alton Brown, host of the Food Network's "Good Eats," brings a lighthearted scientific look to cooking. Foodies were thrilled to hear he's taken a commentator role on "Iron Chef America" and looked forward to his unique insights. But recently, Brown was rushed from the "Iron Chef" set to the hospital. tells all: "Yes, it was my heart but I did not have a heart attack. Apparently stress, fatigue and dehydration following a prolonged bout of vomiting brought on by a migraine threw my heart into arrhythmia. It took the docs about 8 hours to get my ticker back in the groove and they kept me overnight so that they could stick me with more needles and force me to eat hospital food but now I’m out and resting…as much as I ever rest." Get well soon, Alton.

• The Easy-Bake Oven is so over: Instead, get your kids a . Thank you, Easter bunny. Says a friend:"I think it'd be more fun to change the molds and turn out horrible mutant Peeps."  (Via LJC FYI.)

• One of my favorite speeches in moviedom is Batty's final speech in "Blade Runner," the famous "Tannhauser gate" speech in which he says "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die." Now someone has Photoshopped an eerily beautiful space image that they are calling the . Gorgeous.

• The random . With guest star Tony Danza!

• Is the world ready for an ? Er, I mean, an HBO movie about a Pacific Northwest grunge band and its intense leader uncomfortable with the band's rise to fame? (Link via -- thanks, Clark!)

Judy Blume books coming to big screen

Her books helped a generation grow up, and now they're going to be movies. Yesterday it was reported that Disney will be .

The Reuters article on the deal says that the first book on the development list will be "Deenie," which it describes as being "about a young teenage girl seeking to define herself beyond the wishes of her parents."

Oh, come on, Reuters. Any girl who read the book could tell you it's really about a young girl who has to wear a back brace due to scoliosis.

That was the wonder of Judy Blume books. Sure, on the surface, they were about kids dealing with school and friends and parents and problems. But that wasn't what we kids whispered about furtively behind our Trapper Keepers. They were the only books for kids (at least in the '70s) that dared to mention the ugly specifics of childhood that no one really talked about. had to wear a brace. longed to get her period. parents were getting a divorce. was afraid of dogs and swimming. spied on an undressing neighbor and was unnerved by the resulting dreams.

The wonder of Judy Blume's books was that she took all those feelings and fears and problems and worries that kids kept to themselves and shook them out into the light of day. Maybe the Brady kids could talk to their parents about back braces and periods and divorce and masturbation, but the rest of us real kids sure couldn't. If Blume's characters could struggle with these often-embarrassing issues, even if they weren't the specific ones you as a kid were dealing with, then it gave you a little strength and comfort that you could somehow survive your own problems.

Blume's books are such a landmark piece of the 1970s that they were even highlighted on an episode of the oh-so-addictive on VH-1. You haven't truly experienced the Blume books until you've heard Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider and actor Luis Guzman reading from "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret."

I'm not sure if the Blume books will work as well as movies as they do as books. One of the charms of the books was that you could envision the kids to be as gawky as you were, or as you felt. When Hollywood gets its hands on them, the kids will probably be played by gorgeous actors and actresses who are tougher to relate to. And one of the good things about the books was that you could read them in private, under the covers or inside your desk. Movies are a much more communal experience.

Yet in this new era where even a is censored on "ER," it seems like a good sign that Blume's controversial books will get more attention. Kids need a friend like Judy. They needed her in the '70s, and they still need her now.

'Sopranos' starts off slow

"The Sopranos" returned to HBO last night with its first new episode in 15 months. Unfortunately, it wasn't worth the wait. Yet.

(Warning: Haven't seen the episode and don't like spoilers? Stop reading now. What follows is my review of the episode -- don't say you weren't warned.)

On the couch: I can't be the only viewer who feels that the Tony-Dr. Melfi plot seems to have run its course. The idea of a Mob boss spilling his guts on a shrink's couch wasn't new when the show debuted (the movie "Analyze This," which came out the same year as "The Sopranos," covers the same ground).

It feels played out now. Melfi can no longer be shocked by the fact that she's treating a mobster, and Tony himself is almost comfortable with the idea of therapy now. So the show has decided to get a little too obvious and throw the two together romantically. Tony has long been open about his crush on his shrink, but last night's episode featured her fantasizing about him and him kissing her passionately. Both of these scenes seemed jolting and awkward, and personally, I'm hoping this plotline is soon sleeping with the fishes.

Married to the Mob: Another odd plot concerned a bear stalking the Sopranos' Jersey manse. The ambling creature terrified son AJ so much he was reduced to tears and calling for his "Mommy." Was the point of this to show us how much of a wimp AJ is? Because we already knew that.

The plot also allowed Tony to send one of his henchmen back into the house, where he no longer lives, to guard his wife and son. (In the night's best line, Tony demanded of Carmela "What, you trying to prove your independence? This ain't Little House on the F---ing Prairie!")

By the end of the show, Tony himself was taking the watch, sitting outside in a pool chair with an automatic weapon, literally armed for bear. While this plot was a little bizarre, it allowed the estranged Tony and Carmela to interact, let Tony show how he longed to protect his family, and presented an odd side of nature-loving Tony. He was told repeatedly that the corn he fed his beloved ducks may have drawn the bear -- just one more not-so-subtle way of telling him his choices were endangering his family.

The boys and the business: The best "Sopranos" plots in the season-opener all involved Tony's capital-F Family, the Mob. We learned of an odd Mob tradition in which the lowest-on-the-totem-pole soldier pays for the entire group's dinner, which quite naturally, bugs the payer -- Christopher.

It was a perfect plot to create tension between Christopher and Paulie, and as with many squabbles between the two, was taken too far. This fight didn't end until an innocent waiter was dead in an Atlantic City parking lot. Will this murder come back to haunt them, or will it simply hang over their heads for a few seasons, a la the missing Russian from the Pine Barrens?

Also, Tony and crew learned that a number of mobsters would be getting out of jail, and at least one made it clear he wants to get back in the game. This plot was mostly setup this week, but a preview made it clear that next week's show is a don't-miss. Steve Buscemi will join the cast as Soprano cousin Tony Blundetto, older and much wiser after going to jail when he was just in his 20s (sister Janice reports "he was a fox!").

The preview for next week shows Tony giving a Welcome Home party for Blundetto, who almost immediately runs up against his cousin.

Meanwhile, Christopher's fiancee, Adriana, is still spilling Family secrets to the Feds, and still tearing herself up over it. But is she about to get found out? There's an ominous scene in which it's reported that a license plate "came back a no-hit." Viewers are left to wonder what that exactly means -- does this mean the license plate is the equivalent of an unlisted number, and does it belong to one of the government agents working with Ade?

And there are a couple of unanswered questions from the first episode, not the least of which being: Are Janice and Bobby married? A kitchen scene where she freaked out about losing her wedding ring was the only clue to viewers. (Other unanswered questions: What's with Melfi's accent? Why do the Sopranos have a grenade in the house? When is Meadow going to wash her car?)

While the season opener wasn't a classic "Sopranos" episode, it was good to see the old familiar faces back on our TV screens again. And if next week's episode is as meaty as the preview promised, this fan will be singing "Soprano" every Sunday night for the foreseeable future.