Fascinating observations on retro culture! Or, irrelevant drivel about old dead proto-fascist narratives from a guy who didn't leave the house today. You be the judge.

A quiet day at home. But with satellite radio! Still annoyed by the additional cost, though. Fifty cents a day isn’t much, but now I feel obligated to use it more. You know how it is. If water was free people would run the shower all day and raise orchids in the bathroom; charge money for it, and you feel compelled to get in the shower the minute the water’s right.

Speaking of which: never had a shower whose controls were as precisely calibrated as I’d like.  It’s either almost hot enough or slough-the-flesh-off-the-bone hot, and I spend half the shower adjusting the control. I’m sure they’ll have voice-activated temperature controls soon, but they’ll be in Frontgate, that home-products catalog aimed at people whose shower stalls are large enough to accommodate waterproof armoires for the flatscreen.

Wrote two columns, cleaned the house. And I mean, cleaned.  Sat down to confront he email bin: holy crow. Holy crow! Tomorrow will be “MySpace Friends Request Fulfillment Day,” it seems.

Picked Gnat up from school, and went home for the usual routine: homework, feed the fish, piano. Homework was easy. The second part was difficult, as the fish had perished. Or so it seemed on first glance; then I thought “she’s just stuck in the plastic weeds.” We’ve all been there. That’s life in America, maaan. Stuck in the like plastic weeds. I freed Chalky with a net, and Chalky swam sideways. Its breathing was irregular. Lacking a crash-cart for a goldfish, I steeled Gnat for the end: Chalky was not well, and in fish-terms this meant The End. She understood. I debated; I looked at Chalky, hoping it would get it together, but it was apparent the fish was not pining for the fjords. So I scooped her out, said a few words of thanks, and commended her to the swirly depths with all due solemnity.

And Gnat burst out in tears. She sobbed for a while until I summoned Jasper for Hairy Pet Therapy; can’t beat a furry beast with that old-dog smell to make things better. He trotted down the steps – slowly; he pulled something yesterday and limped around for a while – then laid on his back with that Oh For Heaven’s Sake NOW What posture while Gnat gave him hugs and stroked his snout. Then he stood and shook and sneezed and gave us both a look -  you crazy - and trotted back upstairs. People.

It’s late at night now, and cold; eleven degrees. Wind like a toothache. Just finished one column – that’s three today – and soon I will sit down to enjoy “24,” with the usual remarks to follow. I do have something else to add, and that’s the “music” I did this weekend. It’s the usual calamity, and not recommended for anyone who requires things like “melody” or “thematic development” in their music. This isn’t one of those pieces assembled from samples; aside from the percussion, I am to blame for everything. But: the snippets of speeches were taken from an episode of Dragnet I saw many, many years ago and never forgot. It’s Friday and Gannon having a colloquy with an Acid Guru.

As a drama, it’s remarkably inept: the Guru sits on the floor, Friday and Gannon stand, and they trade monologues. In the first half, they’re shown in medium closeup. In the second half, they’re show in medium-tight closeup.

Friday barks off a few trademark hard-tack raps; the Guru gives as good as he gets, but in the end of course he's in prison blues. As a middlebrow distillation of the drug-culture issues, it’s quite succinct, and no doubt bored the jebesus out of everyone who tuned in expecting roscoes and rousts.

I should note that I watched Dragnet as a kid, and loved it. I watched it again when it was in reruns in college, and found it cheap and laughable. A few years ago I discovered the radio shows, which opened my eyes: it was considered the “COPS” of its time, gritty and realistic. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating, if only so you can bring it up at a dinner party and bore people just like I’m boring you now. The standard Dragnet format ended every scene with Friday making a tart ironic rejoinder.

“I just don’t understand it,” the victim says. “He walked out and didn’t pay.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Friday says.

“Huh?” says the victim.

“He’ll pay.” DUH DUH DUHHHHH goes the music. If ever I write a monograph on classic radio scores, which I will never do, there’ll be a chapter called “The Baleful Plaints of Walter Schumann.” His music was instantly apt: the stabbing horns, the mournful woodwinds. They’re wary and exhausted, resolute and resigned. They provided a perfect bridge between scenes on the radio, but on the TV, we had to look at something. So the scenes ended with Friday’s Tart Ironic Rejoinder, followed by reaction shots from the victim (Virginia  Gregg, usually), his partner, and Friday. This made every scene end with the same mopey hangdog mood, the same irresolute dissipation, and it’s one of the things that makes the TV show seem so stilted. If you’d come to know the show through the radio version, though, it made perfect sense.

Anyway. The color TV shows aren’t very good. This is the city? Nah. This is a series of interchangeable harshly lit studio interiors. The black-and-white predecessor is interesting, because the fellow who plays Friday’s partner – Ben Alexander as Frank Smith – played him on the radio as well. (Friday’s original partner was Ben Romero, played by Barton Yarborough; he was a Southerner, of all things, but that wasn’t unusual for the radio shows; you’re surprised to find the number of “rural” accents that appear on the show, holdovers from the Dust-bowl immigration, perhaps.) Once you explore Jack Webb’s other radio work you realize that Friday was just part of his persona – but in the end he was only Friday, and he let Friday turn into the Flatfoot’s patron saint. What amused me when I was 20 interests me now, though – the TV shows on which I was weaned turned out to signify something much more interesting.

Remember how the TV shows began? A travelogue reel of LA with Friday describing its virtues and pitfalls. “It’s a city of light. But sometimes people stick a lightbulb up their buttocks. That’s where I come in. I carry a badge.” The radio openings were different, and much more rigid: Friday named the date, described the weather in Los Angeles, named the location to which he was headed: “Room 24. Forgery.” And we were off.

This piece wasn’t intended to be a Dragnet mix, but it that’s what happened. For five years, maybe more, I’ve considered making a stupid noisy piece of techno that sampled Jack Webb saying “LSD is the bomb.” So here it is. (Smaller MP4 link here . . . please use that one if you can. Larger MP3 link here.)

And now, "24"!

President Wayne Palmer (“Think of me as the Jim Belushi of presidents”) has just addressed the nation, asking for faith and trust and resoluteness and steadfasty calm, which is fine – but since the “24” story line is predicated on a half-decade of annual HORRIBLE attacks, he might as well say “you know what you were supposed to do last time? Like that, then.” Of course, a nuke on American soil is a different matter. This is only the second one of those. In the bunker, Not-Helen Mirren argues with Security Weasel about new measures which would require the detention of anyone entered in the secret national database of people who have purchased falafel in the last nine years. Jack continues to interrogate his brother Piglet McBluetooth, who resembles an evil George Costanza covered with whipped Vaseline.

“Dad put together a security team,” Piglet says. Oh, man, how many times have we all heard that before.

UPDATE: We have found the country’s sole hot female Muslim Republican! And she’s hampered by the rules put in place by a paranoid Democratic administration! Man, politics are just ruining this show.

Just kidding.

UPDATE: I hate to second-guess the fine team that puts this wonderful show together, but after a nuke has gone off, the sight of two bureaucrats having a turf war in a hallway does not have the dramatic impact you might think.

UPDATE: Back at the detention center, where there is much Ominous Milling About. A phone is pickpocketed; numbers are retrieved, one of which leads Chloe to a website that appears to have a flash video of a flag with an American skull with the transparency value set at 50%. This, oddly enough, exonerates the detainees, and leads to an understandable beatdown from the innocent web-surfer whose phone was lifted: cycle of violence, alas.

UPDATE: Piglet McBluetooth’s company is called “Elegra Global.” Elegra sounds like a pill that makes your shin stiff for two hours.

UPDATE: Hello, I’m James Cromwell. I look like crap. For reasons I can’t quite explain I parlayed my wonderful character in “Babe” into a series of bad-guy roles notable for their arid, prickly unlikeable nature, thereby revealing the limited range of my acting abilities. But you can understand why I’m playing Keifer Sutherland’s father. It’s not like they could have hired, you know,   Keifer Sutherland’s father.
Hold on, I suppose they could have. Oh well. That’s my job: ruining your preconception. In “L. A. Confidential” I was the living embodiment of everything the Dudley Smith character wasn’t; in “Star Trek VIII” I was the spittin’ antithesis of warp-drive pioneer Zeph Cochrane, previously described as a square-john US Astronaut sort. Now I’m here, the tall guy with a nose like a keel on a scuppered schooner. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Jack and Jack-Dad have been handcuffed in the back of a van. Next episode: Jack chews through the chains and spits the sharp sundered links into the back of the heads of the guards.

Bottom line: an episode that managed to be everything the previous 120 weren’t.

ADDENDUM: While putting together the Dragnet mix I was reminded of another episode in which a flip free-wheeling young couple hopped up on reefer drowns their baby when they nod off; it's notable for the last scene, in which Friday walks towards the camera with the bag, or lid of marijuana in his hands. He crushes it in mute fury. That stuck in my mind for various reasons. Well, after "24" I hit the TiVo menu. The machine recorded a Dragnet. Without asking.

It's that episode. It's as blunt as the rest. Still better than the show I just watched.