Thanks & Giving: 2008 in Retrospect

I’m a sentimental sap at times, and the holidays are no exception. This will be one of those rare entries where pop culture does not play a role.

Here is a look back at 2008 from my rear view mirror; what I am thankful for and what we have been able to give back.



My mom & dad, brother, 98 year old grandmother, my NY aunt & uncle and cousins, my mother & father-in-law, 5 sisters-in-law, 4 brothers-in-law and 11 amazing nieces & nephews.


My 30 year old friend Jackie was diagnosed with a brain tumor this summer and after surgery, emerged from radiation and chemo with few side effects and a positive outlook. She has already returned to work. Her courage, strength and spirit are incredibly inspiring. We are very thankful for her health and to have her in our lives.

The gigantic 8.5cm mass that I had removed 3 weeks ago today was non-cancerous. I am almost fully recovered, and return to work myself on Monday.


I feel lucky to have one, and many of my co-workers will be friends for life.


Though we are very disappointed by the passage of Prop 8 here in California, we are thankful and blessed to have shared over 11 years with one another, and look forward to spending the rest of our lives together.


If I were not able to write and share, my life would not be the same. Thank YOU for being interested!

Every year we designate a few charitable and non-profit organizations to contribute to; we did not let the current economic climate affect our decision this year. Below are the ones we chose to support.  I encourage you to explore and do the same in your area if at all possible before the end of the year, in any amount.

ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation)
Rescuing and finding loving homes for abused and abandoned cats and dogs, as well as providing programs which bring the healing touch of animals to at-risk youth. Founded by former MLB coach Tony LaRussa.

Free, personalized websites that support and connect loved ones during critical illness, treatment and recovery.

Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Their tagline says it all: “because no one should go hungry.”

GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)
Dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Giving hope, strength and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Stand Up To Cancer
Founded on the belief that there is now sufficient knowledge of the basic science of cancer and that technologies are available to allow the practical application and translation of even more basic science knowledge to patients with cancer; the successful application of this knowledge will result in more rapid advances in the treatment of patients and the prevention of cancer in those individuals who are at risk.

Writers Guild Foundation Industry Support Fund
Provided members of the industry affected by the WGA Strike with emergency assistance for food, housing, transportation and medical expenses.

Happy holidays to you and your family.

Thank you for continuing to visit and read; I appreciate each and every one of you for doing so.

- Jo

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Gift Guide: Pop Culture Presents for $20 or Less

We are all feeling the effects of the economy right now, and the holidays will be particularly challenging for some with regard to gift giving.  So I have compiled a list of cool and affordable gifts for your favorite fanboy or girl, TV addict or film buff. Obviously there are thousands of choices out there, but here are just a few suggestions.

[Unless otherwise noted with a link, you can find all of these items on Amazon.  Keep your eyes peeled for great online coupons from Borders and Barnes & Noble as well.]


Dr. Leo Spaceman T-Shirt (30 Rock)
He’s a fine doctor, and a pretty good dentist!

Edward Cullen’s Replica Wristcuff (Twilight)
Seriously. You can purchase this man bracelet for your swooning daughter or girlfriend.

Top Chef logo cap
$14.99, Bravo Shop
For the top chef in your own kitchen or life.


The Bro Code
Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother)
I believe that the cover photo says it all.

Dead Until Dark (Southern Vampire Mysteries, No. 1)
Charlaine Harris
Get to know Sookie Stackhouse and the other cast of characters from Harris’ series, on which the new HBO show True Blood is based.

Heroes, Volume 1
Illustrated by Tim Sale
Regardless of how you feel about the television series now, this compilation of online comics that accompanied the first season is very cool.

Lost Ate My Life: The Inside Story of a Fandom Like No Other
Jon Lachonis & Amy J. Johnston
If you or someone you know has ever posted on a Lost message board/forum or spends hours analyzing and discussing every episode, this is the perfect gift for them; a fantastic behind-the-scenes perspective about how one show has inspired an entire online community.

Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen: Temper Tantrums, F Words and the Pursuit of Perfection
Gordon Ramsay
Even if you haven’t seen any of Chef Ramsay’s shows, this is quite a fascinating autobiography.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
One of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time; you do not need to be a comic book aficionado to appreciate it. The film debuts next year – read this first.


Can’t Hardly Wait (10th Anniversary Edition)
One of the best ‘guilty pleasure’ teen movies around, featuring an ensemble cast of future television stars and character actors: Lauren Ambrose, Eric Balfour & Freddy Rodriguez (Six Feet Under), Selma Blair (Hellboy), Clea DuVall (Heroes), Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg), Ethan Embry (Sweet Home Alabama), Peter Facinelli (Dr. Cullen in Twilight), Donald Faison (Scrubs), Seth Green (Family Guy), Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina the Teenage Witch), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Ghost Whisperer), Breckin Meyer* (Robot Chicken), Jerry O’Connell (Crossing Jordan), Chris Owen (American Pie trilogy), Erik Palladino (ER), Jaime Pressly (My Name is Earl), Sara Rue (Less Than Perfect), Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother) and Sean Patrick Thomas (Save the Last Dance).

* Pop culture sidenote: Breckin Meyer is married to Can’t Hardly Wait writer/director Deborah Kaplan.

Friday Night Lights
The excellent film that preceded the stellar television series, both of which are based on H.G. Bissinger’s book of the same name.

The Office, Season 1
Watch Jim watch Pam, from the beginning.

Pushing Daisies: The Complete First Season
This gem of a show was recently canceled, but it is destined to become a cult classic.


Matt Nathanson: Some Mad Hope
I never pass on the opportunity to promote Matt’s music. Even if he wasn’t a very good friend of mine, I would own this CD. His songs have been featured on Eli Stone, Men in Trees, Private Practice and Scrubs.

OMFGG No. 1: Gossip Girl Soundtrack
An upbeat compilation with tracks from The Killers, Phantom Planet, The Ting Tings, Junkie XL and more.

TOYS & GAMES for Grownups

The Dude Abides: a Big Lebowski talking keychain
Clip this bad boy on when you go bowling or to the bar when you order a White Russian.

LOST Dharma Be@rbrick
$15, Meltdown Comics
What LOST fan wouldn’t want this cute little Dharma bear figure on their desk?

Sex and the City Trivia Game
We all know someone who knows entirely too many details about Miranda, Charlotte, Carrie and Samantha. This should be right up their Manolo alley.

And of course, here are a few items on my personal wish list of pop culture gifts:


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone – safe travels!

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Can’t Fight the Twilight

We didn’t intend to see Twilight last night; we wanted to see it eventually, but avoid the throngs of shrieking girls that would accompany this pop culture phenomenon during opening weekend. When I arrived at the theater early yesterday afternoon to buy us advance tickets for Quantum of Solace, I was surprised to see that none of the Twilight times had sold out (granted, we live in a sleepy suburb – but there are plenty of teenagers here!). After hearing that the lines weren’t long to wait for good seats, I took a chance and purchased tickets for Twilight instead.

To our surprise, they allowed early birds in the theater an hour before the film started rather than making everyone wait in a line outside. And that’s when it began…the palpable excitement emanating from gaggles of girls, proud and loud exclamations about Robert Pattinson’s eyes and whether they prefer brooding vampire Edward or the cute and mysterious Jacob. Swoons and sighs. Giggles of glee. And I sat there absorbing it all, sharing occasional eye rolls with the parents who were chaperoning in large groups of tween BFFs.

Many people have asked me if reading Stephenie Meyer’s first book of the series is essential before seeing the film. The quick answer is no. That being said, the movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book and I found myself looking forward to certain scenes because of how they would translate from page to screen.

I was pleasantly surprised by the direction of Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown); she was able to establish and maintain lead character/narrator Bella’s surreal perspective throughout the film. We walk in her shoes through the dream state that her life becomes upon meeting Edward Cullen.

Everyone can attest to the fact that high school is an awkward time, complicated by love at first blush and unfamiliar lust. If there is one element that Meyer and Hardwicke both nail with great success, it is the blundering interaction between Bella and Edward…which account for a few appropriately cheesy and inadvertently funny moments on film.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were perfectly cast and share an indisputable chemistry. I loved that Pattinson chose to portray Edward in a way that it was always unclear whether he wanted to kiss or kill Bella. However, my favorite relationship was actually between Bella and her father (played with quiet, understated grace by Billy Burke).

Without giving away a key scene, I will say that the confrontation between vampires toward the end was very well choreographed and executed, and it was easily the best sequence in the movie. 

Honestly, the hair and make-up used to distinguish the Cullen family from the rest of the town was distracting – it was more Halloween costume than naturally pale vampire (in unflinching close ups, the caked on white powder was painfully obvious). It was announced that they are moving forward with the sequel (New Moon), and I have no doubt that they will improve upon this look.

Overall, Twilight was exactly what I expected and what it was billed as, a PG-13 love story for teens. There is no sex and very little violence; it is the antithesis of True Blood, the fantastic new HBO series. If you are forced to see it (whether escorting your teenager or being dragged by your friends), I think you will at least appreciate the in-theater enthusiasm and on-screen angst.

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ABC Minus 3: Dirty Sexy Money, Eli Stone & Pushing Daisies

It is not a great surprise, but I was very disappointed to learn that Dirty Sexy Money, Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies were all canceled today, according to many online entertainment news sources (including Ausiello and Kristin).

Of the three, my heart was firmly planted with the cast, crew and creative team behind Pushing Daisies. The show was far more than whimsical; it was a series with soul and great spirit.

I enjoyed Dirty Sexy Money for exactly what it was – a late night soap blessed with a fantastic ensemble cast and intriguing stories that successfully intermingled dysfunctional families with politics. And although I was a fairly late convert to Eli Stone, I thought that the series offered a unique and quirky blend of drama, humor and music.


My favorite show of all time (Lost) and several others that I TiVO every week (Brothers & Sisters, Grey’s, Life on Mars, Private Practice, Samantha Who, Scrubs, Ugly Betty) are on ABC, so I’m not about to boycott an entire network. And I realize that the current financial situation affects the production costs of television shows. However, I am entitled to be
disgruntled with ABC because of beloved show cancellations and poor
decisions (how/why they fired Brooke Smith). So I am.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a slice of pie in honor of Bryan Fuller and his amazing show.

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Exclusive Preview 3: The Write Environment with Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond)

For my third sneak peek at the DVD series The Write Environment, I was very entertained by the interview with television writer/producer Phil Rosenthal.

First…a little background about Rosenthal, who is best known as the creator, executive producer and writer of Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005). He was also a series writer on Coach, and has been a contributing writer on several charity events for television (America: A Tribute to Heroes, Shelter From the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast).  He is married to actress Monica Horan, who played Amy MacDougall Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond.

Rosenthal graduated from Hofstra University with a degree in theater; he originally wanted to be an actor, and makes occasional appearances in small roles and cameos on TV and in film. In addition, his autobiography (You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom) was released in 2006.

Given that he won 2 Emmy awards and received 12 total nominations for his work on Everybody Loves Raymond, I should not have been surprised to learn that Phil Rosenthal is damn funny; I found myself laughing out loud several times while watching the DVD. It is definitely a change of pace from the interviews with Lindelof and Whedon, and Rosenthal offers an enlightening perspective about the nuances between writing comedy and drama.

Although Everybody Loves Raymond was based on Ray Romano’s life, you can’t help but notice the similarities between Romano and Rosenthal; comedic timing, facial expressions, sense of humor. To a certain extent, the openly neurotic Rosenthal is Larry David to Romano’s Seinfeld.

His particular writing space is very different from the other writers thus far; Rosenthal prefers to write while on the couch or in bed, using a laptop and tray. His primary location to do so is a guest house that he had built for his parents, on whom he based the characters Marie and Frank Barone. But unlike Lindelof and Whedon, there is no pop culture memorabilia in that space; only the table and chairs that Marie and Frank used on the set of his show.

Rosenthal discusses his approach to writing jokes, his comedic influences and favorite contemporary series’ (30 Rock, The Office). He also emphasizes the importance of writing from personal experience and incidents from your own life. 

He is quite an engaging interview subject, infectiously enthusiastic and sincere about his craft and sitcom history. The DVD is available now through the official site and Amazon, and it is a must-see for all writers who endeavor to work in comedy.

An for a good laugh, make sure to check out this great video that he wrote for some guy named Bill Clinton.

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