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Test Pattern: ‘Lost’ locks and loads

Finally, the plane-crash drama is moving again

Lost’ locks and loads

(Spoilers ahead for LAST week's episode of “Lost.” As if fans don't know by now what happened...)

Admittedly, last week's was trundling along like most episodes of that show: Better than many dramas, but not exactly action-packed. Viewers learned more about the past of Ana-Lucia and Jack's father, were confused by the introduction of a woman who might be Claire's mother, saw Sawyer and Ana-Lucia get cozy, suffered through more Henry Gale Otherspeak. And then, all hell broke loose. Anyone who'd hit the restroom or dozed off during those last few minutes had better have had a TiVo running.

What's the famous opening to ? "It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon." Yeah, that was kinda it, if you replace the "maid screaming" with "Libby screaming." Ana-Lucia thought she was handing Michael Sawyer's gun so he could kill Henry, but really, she was signing her own death warrant. Michael apologized, then shot Ana-Lucia, and when a screaming Libby appeared on the scene, shot her twice. He then opened the door of Henry's cell and, with the prisoner watching, shot ... himself, apparently in the arm.

It didn't take viewers long to put things together. Michael, only recently returned from some kind of contact with the Others, was either brainwashed by or had cut a deal with the mysterious people who held his son, Walt, captive. He'd spent much of the episode convincing Jack, Locke and crew that the Others were weak, injured, practically unarmed. He obviously wanted to wage war, but after the shooting, it seemed even more clear that he was lying, hoping to lead the show's main characters into a slaughter.

Suddenly, the show's gentle good guy was a murderer. The controversial Ana-Lucia and stll-mysterious Libby were dead or dying. The looming war with the Others was likely an ambush. And those who had been snoozing were wide awake.

"Lost" returns tonight, and the characters will face a very different landscape than they saw last week at this time. Rumors based on the preview claim that one of the two women could survive, although surviving being shot at close range, on an island with little to no medical care, seems unlikely. But fans can't be blamed if they're exulting "Finally, something happened!"

"Lost" is a show that proceeds slowly on good days, glacially on bad days. Sure, it can be fascinating for fans to mull over the different Dharma stations, or the intricacies of the initiation film, or ponder the sheer number of boats and other craft that are sucked into the island. But such mental work can only go so far. Flashbacks, too, are an integral part of the show, and they usually feed viewers extra info about the main characters, but admittedly they can get draggy and repetitive. (Sawyer cons people! Charlie was in a band! Sun has daddy issues!) Michael may have creepy ulterior motives, but at least it feels like the plot is moving again.

It's got to be tough to write a show set on an island, no matter how weird the island is or how much freedom the flashbacks give you. Dramas that trap the cast in one spot can be fascinating when done well ("12 Angry Men," "Lifeboat"), but too often, the claustrophobia cannot be overcome and the show starts to retread old ground.

"Lost" might have been veering dangerously towards that point for the first 55 minutes of last week's show. How many times can various characters taunt and plead with and interrogate Henry Gale about his real identity, anyway? But then Michael raised his gun, and the show obediently turned on his head. Three episodes remain in the season, and it's going to be one bumpy ride indeed.

Facts of Life’ on DVD

Maybe you're like me: More and more, when perusing DVD racks at video or electronics stores, you find yourself gravitating away from the movies and towards the seasons of old TV shows on DVD. "The Simpsons," "The Cosby Show," "Northern Exposure" — there's something calming about the familiar old faces and situations, and it's wonderful to be able to host your own marathon, watching multiple episodes in one day.

I suppose I should be embarrassed that I've known for weeks that the first and second seasons of are out on DVD today, and that I'm probably going to buy them on my way home from work. But as a kid going to an all-girls school in the 1980s, convinced that everyone else in the world attended coed schools, "Facts" was a revelation. Not only was it set at an all-girls school, but boys were hardly ever a part of the scripts. Oh, they were talked about, and they occasionally showed up for dances, but girls ran the show.

The "Facts of Life" girls weren't like Marcia Brady, either, perfect from head to toe. Cruelly dubbed "The Fats of Life" by some jokesters for their roller-coaster weight gain and loss, they struggled through puberty right on the screen.

If it felt real, that's because some of it was. Jokester Natalie was played by Mindy Cohn, who was not an actress, just a schoolgirl who was recruited to join the cast when Norman Lear visited her Los Angeles-area school. She was one of the few non-model-like faces in the cast, and also one of the most likable. And kids can only "act" up to a point — mostly they were just reacting and joking and having fun.

The show, like all sitcoms of its era, tackled some big topics — suicide, losing one's virginity, drinking. There were oddball celebrity appearances — singers Stacie Q and El DeBarge showed up. But the best episodes were the small, goofy ones, including my favorite — where the girls stayed up all night to study, fortified with Oreos, and freaked out on Tootie when she unplugged the alarm clock, turning a quick nap break into a multi-hour snooze. I can't be the only one who learned the chemical symbol for gold from a Natalie-Tootie bit in this episode. ("Ay, you, come back here with my gold watch!")

The first season featured approximately dozens of girls, including a pixie-cut Molly Ringwald, but after that season, the cast was trimmed to four main girls, including newcomer Nancy McKeon as rebel Jo. McKeon has seemed to distance herself from the show in recent years — smartly, she wasn't in the horrible "Reunion" movie in which two dorky guys lusted after Natalie, Tootie was a TV star longing to do theee-atah and rich-girl Blair finally decided to have babies. But McKeon showed up with Cohn and Lisa Whelchel (Blair) to chat with Al Roker on "Today" this morning, so apparently she's back in the Eastland School fold these days.

"Facts of Life" went through about a million incarnations — when the setting left Eastland, it moved on to Edna's Edibles, a gourmet store run by Mrs. Garrett, and then Over Our Heads, the kind of weird-stuff-you-don't-need gift store that was in every mall in the 1980s. The cast changed — Mrs. Garrett wed and joined the Peace Corps, leaving Cloris Leachman to replace her. Mackenzie Astin and Sherrie Krenn were brought in as a new younger generation, and most memorably, George Clooney showed up as doofusy handyman George, sporting the .

"Facts of Life" wasn't a show for everybody. It was hardly hilarious or earth-shattering, just a quiet, gentle show where girls and women held almost all the major roles. I don't know if boys  could ever be convinced to watch it. There's a saying that girls will go to movies about boys, but boys won't go to movies about girls, and the same may hold for TV shows, I don't know for sure. But I do know I'll be having myself a nice 1980s flashback someday soon, taking the good and taking the bad, and learning the "Facts of Life" all over again.

Multi-link Monday: Monopoly makes mistakes

May is such a busy month in entertainment that Test Pattern updates may be sparse for the next few weeks. Never fear, we'll always have Multi-link Monday. Let's get to it.

• Monopoly is coming out with a version of the game that incorporates landmarks from all over the U.S. You can , and the one landmark with the most votes becomes the new Boardwalk, or most valuable space. Love the idea, but the concept is...weird. I figured Seattle's Space Needle would be a choice from that city, but instead Puget Sound is one. Puget Sound? Methinks they're thinking too large. Also, check your hometown's choices for accuracy — as a sharp-eyed poster noted on, the choices for Minneapolis are all kinds of messed up. Summit Avenue is in St. Paul and the Mall of America is in Bloomington, problems Monopoly could have avoided by simply naming the choice "Twin Cities area" instead of "Minneapolis." And the photo they label "Stone Arch Bridge" isn't the Stone Arch Bridge. Go to Jail! Go directly to Jail! (Thanks to for the link!)

• And I thought watching the "American Idols" cover hit rock songs was bad enough: This site collects 56 versions of All I can say to that is "If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now! It's just a spring clean for the May Queen!" (Link via .)

• I've written about my feelings on the "Poseidon Adventure" remake, so I thought I'd share this quiz: I'm ... Teddy, and man, do I have .

• I know I'm not the only one out there still pining away for "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and snatching up the DVDs as the rights issues are ironed out and they slowly hit stores. So I'm likely not the only person who will love which essentially footnotes and explains some of the riffs from the movies. You can sign up to add annotations of your own, too.

• Reader-submitted link: Anna says " lets you answer a few questions about what kind of “founding father” or “founding mother” you might want to marry and then it hooks you up with one of them." I admit at first this sounded a little weird to me, but then I checked it out. It's set up like a choose your own adventure book, and if you don't like your new spouse, you can hit the Back button and choose again. Plus it's both educational and entertaining. Keep sending in those suggested links!

Time to capsize the movie-remake craze

If you'd come up to me in 1970-whatever, when "The Poseidon Adventure" was running pretty much constantly on channel 9 back in my Minnesota hometown, and told me that movie was going to be remade in 2006 for $150 million, I think I would have laughed till I spit out my chocolate milk. And then I would have asked you how you were enjoying those flying cars, out there in 2006.

I admit to fond memories of "The Poseidon Adventure." Yes, it was a campfest. A wonderful, box office-smashing, Academy Award-winning campfest. I still get a little teary-eyed at a certain Shelley Winters scene (do I need spoiler warnings for a 35-year-old movie?). And what kid didn't later use their GI Joes or Barbies to recreate the climbing of the upside-down Christmas tree, perhaps the coolest scene in all the 1970s disaster films?

But here's the deal: We already HAVE "The Poseidon Adventure." All copies of the film have not miraculously disappeared from recorded media. People are not reduced to acting out versions of the film in the street, or surreptitiously sharing Rogo quotes while hoping no one overhears. Sure, the concept — a cruise ship gets turned upside-down on the high seas — could be done more elaborately with today's special effects, but does that mean it has to be done? Have screenwriters completely run out of fresh ideas for action movies?

And Hollywood thought so highly of the film that Wolfgang Petersen, he of "Das Boot" fame, is the director? And it cost $150 million to make? Is this still "The Poseidon Adventure" we're talking about? Yes, it was great fodder for those long rainy Saturdays when we didn't have cable or TiVo yet, but then again, we'd also been known to watch hour after hour of

According to a review I've seen of the new "Poseidon" (apparently somewhere in the past 25 years, they lost both "The" and "Adventure"), the remake doesn't spend a lot of time on character development. This is a total plus. If you are going to remake a 1970s disaster flick, you can't turn it into "American Beauty." This is a film that's been parodied by "The Simpsons" and "Seinfeld." The original movie's tagline was "Hell, Upside Down." That pretty much says it all.

To stay true to its disaster-movie roots, "Poseidon" needs to hype up its B-moviedom for all its worth. Which is why I was somewhat satisfied to see that alum Jacinda Barrett has a plum role, right up there with Kurt Russell and Richard Dreyfuss. Russell and Dreyfuss bring the 1970s movie cred, reminding us fondly of the old film. Watching Barrett brings the satisfaction of knowing that no matter how much they paid her for the film, she's probably still incapable of housetraining that damn dog, Legend.

"Poseidon" is only the latest remake of a film that didn't need to be remade, of course. I will grudgingly admit that occasionally a remake fares pretty well — “King Kong” was entertaining, and with the modern special effects, actually may have deserved its remake. But those successes are the exception. Did we have to remake the delightfully foul-mouthed classic "The Bad News Bears"? Are moviegoers really crying out for a non-Rodney Dangerfield version of And don't get me started on TV shows of the past moving to the big screen — I didn't pay money to see "Dukes of Hazzard" and they're not getting me to see "Dallas," either. Hollywood types are tramping all over our 1970s and 1980s memories, trying to replace Larry Hagman in our minds with the likes of a .

Come to think of it, "Bowling for Dollars" should also get the big Hollywood remake treatment. Just think of the cool alley they could create for $150 million.

• May 1, 2006 | 6 a.m. PT

Multi-link Monday

Monday, Monday...what a random day. Here's my weekly contribution to the randomness with five time-wasting links.

• Forget check out in which ordinary folks create bizarre and extreme versions of junk food. I love the and the . (Thanks to co-worker Jon for the link!)

• "Fear Factor" is too gross for me, and so too are these , complete with bubble-gum eyeball or sour lemon slime, whatever that is. (Via .)

• I didn't know this existed until I saw it on : The Transportation Security Administration offers a where you can check the estimated security-line wait time at various airports for a certain day and time. Could be useful, but I'm still going to overestimate — there's nothing more frustrating than being stuck in a security line that winds through three concourses when your flight is about to take off.

• You've likely seen the original gallery of Faces of Meth photos — two photographs of the same person showing their shocking physical decline after six months or more of meth use — but here's an . Click on the small photos on the left to see more (note that two of the thumbnails seem to be crossed with each other, but no big deal).

Reader-submitted link: From Kat in Charleston, S.C. "I found these movie quizzes from the same people who did the intelligence tests that you featured in a previous random link page. The links give you movie clips and you supply the movie title. Some are easily recognizable but there others that test your brain. But I’m a big movie buff so I enjoyed them. [Here's and .] Enjoy and Happy Monday!"