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Test Pattern: Five-link Friday

Friday the 13th superstitions;  Jim Henson action figure; Morey Amsterdam and Me; Lance Henriksen, potter; Simpsons mating machine. By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
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• Aug. 13, 2004 | 6 a.m. PT

Five-link Friday

Happy Friday the 13th!

• Perhaps you should put off the needlework . Also the harvesting, getting married, moving, and oh, you moms in labor, you're also supposed to hold off. (You think I'm kidding, but when my sister gave birth to my niece on June 6, 1989, I suggested she hang in there a day so her daughter could have the birthdate of 6-7-89. She didn't listen at the time, but later she told me "That actually would have been very cool.")

• So many action figures are fierce and violent, or artificially beautiful. But this not only honors a beloved and gentle man, but it's got a sweet look to it. Jim, you are missed. (Found at .)

A fun memory of how the Dick Van Dyke sidekick helped out a young kid, and inspired him to a life as an entertainment writer. (Via .)

• If you don't know Lance Henriksen from his creepy-good performance as Frank Black in (I just bought the first season on DVD), you probably know him as Bishop the android from He's also starring in opening today. Turns out Henriksen is also a potter, and his Web site that he makes. It's nice and all, but to me, it's not $1,000 nice. (Look! Henriksen's "Millennium" character, named for Pixie Frank Black, too.)

• I may have linked to the before, but it's worth a revisit. The site shows you what the offspring of two Simpson characters might look like. Some of them are funny (! !), but others verge on scary. Aah! Aah! !

Movie matchups we'd like to see

Yes, I saw I've already outed myself as a , so I might as well admit it.

I'm also planning to see "Alien vs. Predator," which opens on Friday. (Have you taken my friend Chris Bahn's excellent ?)

Fun fact, which I learned from HBO's "First Look at 'Alien vs. Predator': Supposedly the movie stemmed from a scene in in which Danny Glover boards the Predator ship and stumbles upon a trophy case in which the beasts keep their mementos from battles won, including a human skull, a T. Rex skull (smart nod to the moviemakers' idea that the Predators have a long history on Earth) and, best of all, a recognizable "Alien" head.

I think part of the fun of watching two master monsters go at each other is that here are two creatures who have always seemed unbeatable when facing down humans. Seeing the opponent find weaknesses in what seemed unassailable can be fascinating, and it's always fun to see what once was a bad guy taking a hit.

Also, if they're taking on each other, they aren't focusing on eating the puny little humans. It's like the old joke about the two friends who stumble upon a bear, and one starts lacing up his Nikes. "You can't outrun a bear," the other guy says. "And the now running-shoe-clad pal replies: "I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you."

In the spirit of the latest "versus" movie, and with a fond nod to and here are the Pop-Culture Matchups I'd Like to See.

"Paris Hilton vs. Britney Spears." Battle of the Rich and Tacky. Brit has the 55-hour marriage and the boyfriend with two babies. Paris has the night-vision sex tape and the bizarre reality show. Britney's whole life is a bizarre reality show. Winner: Oops, Brit did it again.

"Donald Trump vs. Simon Cowell." Battle of the Reality Moguls. The Donald has the dollars, the 'do, and the catchphrase. But when Simon says, well, anything, would-be singers snap to attention. Winner: Simon could spout one-liners all day, but in the end, Trump will just mow him down with his limo or TrumpCopter. Or more likely, he'd pay someone to do it for him. Simon, you're fired.

"Carmela Soprano vs. Victoria Gotti." Battle of the Mafia Blondes. How would Tony's wife stack up against someone with real Mob blood? If Victoria's sons could jump in on her side, Ms. Gotti would win, since A.J. and Meadow are going to be less than helpful. Winner: If the women duke it out alone. I wouldn't bet against Carm. Beneath the French manicure, there's a spine of steel. Plus Tony's stocked that manse with weaponry.

"Bart Simpson vs. South Park's Cartman." Battle of the Bratty Toons. Bart is smarter, Cartman is fatter. Bart is the master of the prank phone call, Cartman will make you eat your parents. (It's a long story, see the "Scott Tenorman Must Die" episode.) Winner: The Bartman has a million more tricks up his Garanimals sleeve than the Cheesy Poofster. And as crazy as the Simpsons are, they'd dive in on Bart's side in a second. Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Butters would leave Eric to his own devices. Which, we know, usually ends with "Screw you guys, Ah'm going home."

• Aug. 10, 2004 | 9 a.m. PT

The reality of summer

Summer reality shows rarely have the punch of those that run in the fall, winter and spring. Maybe it's the laziness of the season, but once shows like "The Apprentice," "American Idol" and "Survivor" have ended for the season, reality-TV fans can count on getting a lot more time out in the sun — there's just not that much to keep them inside.

Not so this summer. CBS's two big reality shows, "Big Brother" and "The Amazing Race," have acquitted themselves handily, giving viewers every bit as much excitement as their cold-weather cousins.

Around the world in less than 80 daysI expected the Emmmy-winning to be, well, amazing. This solid program of two-person teams traveling the world has a fabulous, ever-changing setting, solid host in hunky Phil Keoghan, and some of the best reality-show editors working today. They toil almost unnoticed, but manage to craft some of the most solid and often hilarious hours on reality television (one writer who regularly gives them their due: contributor and Television Without Pity's "Amazing Race" recapper, ).

"Amazing Race" seems to wind up with exceptional, varied contestants every year, and this season is no exception. Although I miss military dad Jim and daughter Marsha, I like married couple Chip and Kim, bowling moms Linda and Karen, and cousins Mirna and Charla. (OK, Mirna can be fairly obnoxious, and seemed kind of dense for a lawyer ... insert your own joke here. But Charla, who has a form of dwarfism, makes it clear that her small stature will never stop her. I'd take one Charla on my team over 10 regular-size Mirnas.

The show is also making the most of its international setting, taking contestants to Egypt's Sphinx, St. Petersburg's Hermitage and more. And some of what makes it so great just can't be scripted — teams looking for a brightly marked clue box walk within inches of it, whining about how they can't find it; others head to the wrong airport; while one smart duo, already leading the pack, still scramble for a faster flight and find themselves half a day ahead. The show is smart and addictive, seemingly too smart for TV season that's usually as lazy as its long summer days.

He ain't heavy, he’s ‘Big Brother’While I expected "Race" to be "Amazing," the summer reality show that's really surprised me is CBS's which locks contestants in a Los Angeles house and lets alliances form, romances begin and friendships thrive and then wither. Usually I watch the first episode of the show and completely forget to watch it again. It's on multiple times each week, there's a huge cast of young people that kind of blend together, and the setting makes me as claustrophobic as it does the contestants. "Amazing Race" feels so open and soaring, with the world as its set, that watching "Big Brother" seems all the more cloistered by comparison.

But this season, "Big Brother" has clicked in a way it hasn't done before — no thanks to the lame twists created by the show under its "DNA: Do Not Assume" moniker. The show cast two half-siblings who didn't realize they were related, and also cast a ton of identical twins, letting one pair pretend to be one person, switching off being in the house. The half-sibs, Michael and Jennifer, long ago found out their secret (and, really, seemed quite undisturbed by the whole revelation). And twins Natalie and Adria successfully fooled their housemates for five weeks and earned the right to compete as individuals. Other than Michael entertainingly screaming "It's HOLLY! It's HOLLY!" for about five minutes straight when the twin twist was revealed, the whole DNA twist was as thrilling as watching paint dry.

Fortunately for the "Big Brother" producers, the contestants themselves came up with a much better twist than the show itself could script. Jennifer, who also goes by "Nokomis*," is the youngest competitor and perhaps the smartest. Here's where it starts to get confusing if you don't watch the show: Jennifer earned the head of household title, allowing her to select the two people who might be voted off. But like a good chess player, she thought a few steps ahead: The two nominees can choose someone to compete with them for the power of veto, the right to save themselves, forcing her to nominate a different player. But that new nominee has no way to save themselves. Jennifer decided to work with her alliance to ensure that the one player they want voted off was saved until that second, replacement nomination.

Sheer brilliance — or at least, what passes for brilliance on a reality show. "Big Brother" is no "Amazing Race," but it's heating up to be decent summer entertainment after all.

*The show spells and pronounces it "Nakomis," but coming from Minnesota, which has both a Lake Nokomis and a Nokomis neighborhood, I think they're wrong.