It's a great day

This was the best TV show I've seen in, approximately, forever. And it was simply real life -- Barack Obama becoming president.

The music -- from Aretha Franklin, a chamber quartet and a Navy chorus -- was magnificent. So was the irony.

Franklin sang "sweet land of liberty" and "let freedom ring," in front of a Capitol partly built by slaves. She was, newsmen pointed out, about 1,000 feet from the location of a pen where slaves were held.

We might gripe -- hey, TV critics do that -- about two things:

-- The CNN cameras seemed unaware that there are four people in a quartet.

-- The poet was a major buzz-kill. It's a bad sign that no one knew she had finished. (Poets, I think, need "applause" signs.) It's also an odd sign when the benediction has more rhymes than the poet.

But this isn't a day for griping. (Sorry about that.) This is a city. Obama pointed out, where his father wouldn't have been served in restaurants, 60 years ago. And now here was Obama, becoming president.

Not just taking over, but giving a speech that matched the magnificence of the occasion. He reminded us that American history has mostly been built of optimism and idealism. We forget that sometimes; it's impossible to forget that today.


A time for joy -- on TV and in life

The star power splashing across our TV sets on Tuesday (Jan. 20) will be awesome.

There -- shortly before Barack Obama is sworn in at noon -- will be Aretha Franklin and Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma and more. And there -- in the "Neighborhood Ball," from 8-10 p.m., on ABC -- will be many of the great voices: Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Faith Hill, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige and more.

This won't be one of your Miley moments; it's a day for blistering power. It will be a grand time to be planted in front of a TV set.

But for all of that, of course, there's something much bigger. The real star is Obama and the miracle he has wrought.

We're two generations from a time when many Americans didn't want to let blacks vote or hold office or use all of our schools and buses and more. We're one generation from a time when there were no blacks as senators, as governors, as top CEO's. And at noon Tuesday, a black man will become president of the United States.

No matter how you voted, you have to admire the growth in our people; you also have to admire the man who inspired it. You can disagree with him politically, but you'll probably agree that Obama -- like John McCain -- is a remarkably good man.

Despite all the economic trouble, this is a grand day. Great musicians will perform, a great orator will speak, great parties will be had. It will be a day of joy.



TV's best comedy (and maybe its best set)

This probably shouldn't surpise us: TV's best sitcom also has one of the best sets. It's full of playthings; also, the math equations really do make sense.

We're talking about "The Big Bang Theory," of course. With the clever touch of any Chuck Lorre production, it simultaneously mocks its characters -- four young Cal Tech scientists and the waitress who lives in the next apartment -- and views them warmly.

These guys are deep into brainy geekdome and the set reflects it. There's a dart board, a telescope, a "Captain Future: Wizard of Science" poster. There are two Batman figures, an "Infinite Chaos" figure and lots of books and toys. It would be fun to live there.

And there's the board with equations. Yes, director Mark Cendrowski assures us, they're all real.

A UCLA professor is the show's consultant. Sometimes, his staff answers questions when he's away on assignment, but at other times he does it himself. This may be the only comedy that gets e-mails from Antarctica, Lorre said.

But what about the other kind of expertise -- all the details of sci-fi geekdom? "If you spend some time in the writers' room, you'll see that's no problem for us," said co-creator Bill Prady.

This seems to be a fun place to work, including intense ping-pong tournaments. Cendrowski is the reigning champion; Kaley Cuoco and Kunal Navyar are considered the best among the actors.

And in a difference from most TV shows, the female character has the messy place, a clutter of clothes and magazines. One night, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) snuck in and cleaned the place up.

Only Sheldon could do something that creepy and still be a friend. "There's an innate charm and sweetness to Jim Parsons," Lorre said.

And there's a charm to the whole show. "Big Bang Theory" (8 p.m. Mondays on CBS) makes us laugh; its set makes us smile.  






Life in a TV-tour hotel

So I'm reminded of the guy who inherited a grandfather clock. The best plan, he decided, was to carry it to his apartment one night.

As he was lugging it along, a drunk passed him. "Hey buddy," the drunk said. "Why don't you just get a watch?"

That came to mind recently, during a typically odd moment at the Television Critics Association sessions in Los Angeles.

The housekeeper was busy in my hotel room, so I retreated to another spot, bringing my portable DVD player and a new Cartoon Network series. It turned out to be a good show; I was still watching it on the way back to the room.

As it happened, there was an international tourist in the elevator, staring at me. Now I'm sure he's telling people that American guys are crazy. Instead of simply using an I-pod, they go up and down in elevators, watching "Powerpuff Girls."







Cheerfully lost in "Lost"

"Take it easy," one character says in the Jan. 28 "Lost" episode. "I can explain myself a little better."

Or maybe not. He's been leaping back and forth over a 50-year time continuum. That's not easy to explain.

"It is a big of a mine field to do time-travel," producer Carlton Cuse told us today. "But it's rewarding."

He's right on both counts. Watching this show -- when everything can change with a flash of light -- is hugely perplexing and hugely worth the trouble. I've seen the first three hours (9-11 p.m. Jan. 21, 9 p.m. Jan. 28) and I found them fascinating and fun ... even when I didn't understand them.

The alternative, said co-creator Damon Lindelof, was to continue in the kind of stalled-plot approach of the first half of season three. "It was trending toward a path of complete and utter suckiness."

So they changed, chose an end date (one more season after this one) and sped the plot up.

It's moving so fast now that your head might explode if you overthink things. "The people who like this show are the ones who just go along with the journey," Cuse said.

Try it that way. It's a REALLY fun trip.