Veronica Mars

Season one on DVD. (Season two in progress on UPN, Tuesdays at 9 p.m.)

For a teen drama — hell, for any kind of network TV show — the premise of Veronica Mars is brutal. As Veronica, the protagonist, explains in the pilot, the past year of her life has been an unhappy one. Her boyfriend, Duncan Kane, dumped her without warning or explanation — painful, certainly, but nothing out of the ordinary. But then Lilly Kane, her best friend and Duncan's sister, was murdered; her father, Sheriff Keith Mars, made the politically reckless move of accusing the Kanes' powerful, wealthy father of the crime; Veronica's former friends and fellow students cut her dead for supporting her father; the outraged town voted Sheriff Mars out of office in a special election; with Keith unemployed and scrounging for work as a detective, the Marses lost their house and moved to a dingy apartment; unable to cope with the changes, Lianne, Veronica's alcoholic mother, abandoned the struggling family without leaving a forwarding address; and just to make the year complete, Veronica woke from a party she had crashed to find that she had been drugged and raped. So as the show opens, Veronica is the high school pariah, helping her father make ends meet by assisting him in detective work and secretly investigating Lilly's murder in her spare time. She's a lonely, angry girl, but she has goals.

Going through that list, I'm once again shocked by how dark the show's backstory is. When Veronica Mars first premiered in 2004, I chose not to watch it because I thought the drama would either be unrelentingly bleak or, more likely, would betray the weight of its subject matter. But Veronica Mars received great reviews, and its small but devoted group of fans included a few of my friends, so when the first season came out on DVD, I decided to give it a shot.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The New York City Ballet on Thursday, April 27.

If I were to pick a composer to write music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, I don't think I would choose Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn, an early Romantic, had a sense of formality, a classical mindset, that doesn't really jibe with the fantastical nature of the Shakespeare comedy. A Midsummer Night's Dream is ultimately about sex and the psyche, and Mendelssohn's music is too prim, conjuring demure Victorian faeries instead of the ribald, sensual sprites of Shakespeare's imagination.

Then again, people commonly interpret A Midsummer Night's Dream as a benign farce instead of an earthy yet contemplative sex comedy, and Mendelssohn's music invokes the former perfectly. George Balanchine followed his lead in choreographing the work that has become part of the New York City Ballet's repertory since its premiere in 1962. It is blithe and breezy, thematically insubstantial but undeniably enchanting, featuring dancers of all ages and skill levels — from company principals to young children from the School of American Ballet.

This American Life

Weekly radio program from Chicago Public Radio. Heard on public radio stations nationwide as well as satellite radio. Check local listings.

When I first moved to Missouri for graduate school, I spent nearly a month alone without television, Internet access or even a DVD drive on my computer. Giving up one would have been difficult but manageable; giving up all three was agony.

Deprived of a flickering screen to distract me from my loneliness and anxiety, I discovered the joys of public radio. Not all of the programming was to my taste. I only tolerated Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me and absolutely loathed A Prairie Home Companion, but I fell rapturously in love with This American Life. Every Saturday afternoon, I curled up next to the radio for the hour-long program. Host Ira Glass would describe the abstract theme for the week and then introduce a few stories loosely related to that over-arching idea. Some stories were heavily reported, some were personal narratives, others were pure fiction, but nearly all had a distinct, individual voice and something meaningful to impart. The writers impressed me with their skill but, more than that, with their wit and insight and honesty. For that month, This American Life was a major highlight of my week.

I am an idiot.

Sean and I keep telling each other that we need to do a better job of looking ahead at what’s happening in the city so that we can take better advantage of what it has to offer.

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh

Special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through July 9.

Whenever I look back at history, I always have to remind myself that my own frames of reference usually don’t provide the most appropriate context for understanding centuries-old events. It’s tempting to take the isolated bits of information we have and extrapolate wildly, creating stories and heroes and villains with roots more in our imagination and contemporary values than in our maddeningly incomplete archives of the past.

One reason I admired the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibit on Hatshepsut was that it gently reined me in whenever I was ready to leap into a flight of fancy. Such flights were tempting because Hatshepsut is a perfect subject for imaginative exploitation: She was a female pharaoh who ruled over a period of great prosperity during Egypt’s 18th dynasty. But even after the museum carefully acknowledges what we still don’t know about her, that which remains is fascinating.

Lucky Number Slevin

In theaters.

When I was in high school, I befriended a girl with untreated manic depression. During her highs, she was charming and energetic, always ready with an adventure to pursue, but her lows, which came totally without warning, left her despondent, paranoid and inconsolable. I had no idea how to deal with someone who was gregarious and vivacious one minute, morose and teary-eyed the next.

Watching Lucky Number Slevin brought back memories of those roller coaster times. The movie careens between spunky banter and utter ghoulishness with enough volatility to give me whiplash. It features some great scenes, snappy dialogue and appealing performances, but the erratic tone keeps the pieces from fitting together well.

Memoirs of a Geisha


Why did I rent Memoirs of a Geisha? I hated the book on which it was based. Ziyi Zhang’s breathily portentous line reading in the preview — “A story like mine has NEVER been told” — made me roll my eyes. The little I heard of John Williams’ score made me long for Tan Dun’s superior work in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I suppose Memoirs made its way onto my Netflix queue because it seemed a shame to pass up the chance to see Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang on screen together, but I should have trusted my instincts. Memoirs of a Geisha is a dull, overwrought mess. I would have been better off holding my own personal marathon of the trio’s greatest hits, maybe Farewell My Concubine, Crouching Tiger, House of Flying Daggers and 2046.