The Boyfriend of the Week

November 17, 2006

In the last write-up, I spent a good deal of time gushing about a new TV show on ABC called Men in Trees. It's quirky, it's got furry Alaskans, it stars a supremely cute set of dimples, the writing occasionally cracks me up ("The odds are good, but the goods are odd!" said one character, describing the likelihood that a woman will find a good man in Alaska), and, well, frankly, there's really not much not to like about it, except, perhaps, for Anne Heche. However, I don't want you to get the wrong impression. Though I'm thoroughly enjoying Men in Trees and was glad to hear it's just been picked up for a full season (take THAT, infamous Meg Wood TV Show Jinx!) it is NOT my favorite new series of the season. That title, instead, goes to NBC's new fantasy-drama-thriller (or "fanmathrill," as I am officially dubbing the genre), Heroes.

I should begin this adorationfest for Heroes, which is also, incidentally, going to be an adorationfest for this week's Boyfriend Greg Grunberg, by confessing that when I first heard the premise for the show, I wasn't all that wowed. It sounded like a total rip-off of X-Men, for one thing, and for another, I knew it would just be SO easy to make a show like that unbearably hokey. How long until it dissolves into Superfriends, with a cutesy gang of do-gooders who spend their time zooming around rescuing people and fighting evil, I wondered?

Not that there's anything wrong with rescuing people and fighting evil, of course. I do it every day myself, in my role as Superlibrarian Girl, intrepid defender of order, organization, and alphabetization everywhere. And I'm definitely not slamming on Superfriends, either, because I loved that show when I was a kid. I actually learned a lot from Superfriends, and not all of it had to do with spandex, capes, and unnaturally large chins. That show wasn't JUST a bunch of cartoons, if you'll remember. In between each story, they frequently had a sequence or two in which one of the Superfriends would teach us viewers some important safety skill, like, "don't talk to strangers," or "stop, drop and roll."

The one I remember the most, because it's a skill I still use to this day, is the one in which Superman taught us one of the most vital lessons of ALL TIME: how to get an eyelash that's fallen into your eye out quickly and with minimal misery. In terms of rescuing the human race from injury, torture, and despair, I think this might've been the greatest lesson the superheroes ever imparted. And therefore, as I am Superlibrarian Girl, part of a new generation of heroes, I feel I should pass this one along to you guys, in case you missed this sequence yourself as a kid and now frequently find yourself digging into your eyeball with your index finger, all the while screaming, "GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT OF MY EYE! MY EYE! MY EYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEE!" Here's the secret: simply pull one eyelid over the other one (if the eyelash is in the top of your eye, pull the top lid over the bottom one; if in the bottom, vice versa), blink a few times while in that position, and voila! It's a miracle!

In any case, Superfriends was cool and there's no denying it. On the other hand, that was then, and I was eight. Now that I'm in my 30's, my tastes are a bit more sophisticated. (Oh, shut up and stop laughing -- my tastes ARE more sophisticated. You know, as long as you consider Killer Klowns from Outer Space, which is next up in my Netflix queue, a sophisticated film. Which I do. Ahem.)

Anyway, this is why I was a bit wary when I first started seeing the ads for Heroes. It would've been so easy for it to be really stupid. But instead? It's absolutely BRILLIANT. Yes, it does "borrow" a lot of ideas from other similar fanmathrill stuff. There's no denying the heavy influence of the X-Men in there, definitely, or the little Superfriends vibe. There's also some of The Dead Zone, and a bit of The Terminator thrown in for good measure (remember when Hiro shows up on the subway looking all Jedi Knight and tells Peter he's there from the future to tell him he's got to save the cheerleader to save the world? If Hiro'd been naked and made out of metal, I would've been expecting Linda Hamilton to show up and kick some ass at any moment.)

That said, there's something about Heroes that makes it so totally okay with me that they've pulled some concepts from other sources. Sometimes when movies or TV shows "borrow" ideas from other movies or TV shows it's an obvious sign of a total lack of creativity (Hello, new CBS show 3 LBS.!). And other times, as with Heroes, it feels more like an homage to a genre the writer or developer has a lot of affection for. I got the same vibe from Serenity, Joss Whedon's brilliant film based on his series Firefly, which very obviously borrowed some elements from Star Wars. But it wasn't done out of lack of ideas -- it was done out of LOVE of THOSE ideas. There's a difference there, though it's hard for me to explain exactly what that difference is. I guess it has more to do with intent than anything else. Heroes feels like one giant tip of the hat to the great superhero stories that came before it. With a ton -- a TON -- of brilliant, creative, unique ideas creating the platform on which these homages can be set up.

For those of you who aren't watching, Heroes is about a small group of people around the world who have suddenly begun to realize they have superpowers. These powers all seem to have manifested themselves at roughly the same time (though in this week's episode, we learned that at least some people had abilities as long as fourteen years ago), and the abilities encompass a wide variety of talents -- an artist suddenly realizes his paintings are of events from the future, a politician learns he can fly, his brother seems to be able to take on other people's powers whenever he's around them, an extremely adorable Japanese guy named Hiro can manipulate time and space, a cop (played by this week's Boyfriend, the deliciously cute Greg Grunberg) can hear people's thoughts, and a young cheerleader can miraculously heal from any wound or injury.

The twist is that not all the powers people have received are useful or positive. That is, some of the "heroes" might not really be heroes. For example, one young woman has an alternate personality that she discovers, much to her horror, is actually a vicious killer. There's also a mysterious Haitian man who is able to wipe portions of people's memories out, and it's hard to tell yet whether he's doing this for good or for evil. Then there's the dude who suddenly begins to exude huge amounts of radiation, ultimately unintentionally killing his own wife and destroying everything else he comes into contact with. Also thrown into the mix is a serial killer named Sylar, whose connection to all this is still mostly unknown, but who seems to be targeting the heroes specifically, killing them by ripping out their brains (ew, I know).

Anyway, as the heroes begin to learn to control their powers, some of them are also discovering that those powers may serve a greater purpose than just being really cool party tricks. The painter who predicts the future keeps seeing an image in which New York is wiped out by what looks like a nuclear attack. And he's figured out that somehow, the regenerating cheerleader girl holds the key to saving the world. But something, or someone, wants her dead before she can stop whatever horror has been started. Is it her father, mysterious Horn-Rimmed Glasses, who keeps secretly kidnapping various heroes, performing experiments on them, wiping their memories, and then releasing them completely unharmed back into society? Is her father even actually a bad guy? Or is it the evil Sylar? I have no idea! And it's so much fun!

Plus, plot aside, the characters on Heroes are just absolutely wonderful. I love Masi Oka, who plays Hiro, the Japanese man (who speaks little English) who can manipulate time and space. He's just adorable, not to mention extraordinarily cheerful. I spent an entire Tuesday a few weeks ago (the show airs Monday nights at 9pm on NBC, by the way) gleefully exclaiming, "Waffles, yoo hoo!!" every five minutes to a friend of mine who also loves the show. Everything Hiro says is infinitely quotable and giggle-inducing. I just absolutely adore him.

And I also, of course, love love LOVE Greg Grunberg's character, a sort of schlubby cop named Matt Parkman who suddenly discovers he can hear people's thoughts -- a talent he is quickly discovering is both useful and awful, depending on the situation. When he uses this skill to find a little girl who hiding in her house after her parents have been slaughtered by Sylar, an FBI agent (played by Clea Duvall, yay) takes notice. After getting past her initial round of disbelief, she finally realizes Matt's telling the truth and quickly gets him assigned to the FBI's Sylar task force where he can, she hopes, use his powers to help them find and capture Sylar before he kills again.

I was just ridiculously excited, incidentally, when I heard that Greg was going to be on this show -- it's one of the primary reasons I tuned in even though I had the aforementioned fear it was going to be stupid. For the last gazillion years, the only things I saw Greg in tended to be J.J. Abrams projects -- the two are close friends and J.J. often gives Greg a part, even if it's just a cameo, in everything he does. I first discovered Greg, actually, in Abrams's genius show Alias, where he played fellow CIA agent and friend of Michael Vartan's character Vaughn. On this show, I fell in love with Greg's character for many of the same reasons I love him so much on Heroes. He always seems to play roughly the same kind of guy, now that I think about it -- a guy who takes things seriously, but has a playful, goofy side to him as well. A guy who is sweet and sensitive, gentle and kind, but can also kick serious ass when needed. And, most importantly, a guy with a gorgeous smile, who is tall, big, and infinitely cuddleable. It's no surprise I have a huge crush on him, really, as he reminds me a great deal of my husband in terms of body shape and personality. Quiet, sweet, funny, smart, and a bit on the teddy bear side of things, physically. Oh man. Just utterly gorgeous!

I've talked about Alias before on this site a number of times (see Kevin Weisman's write-up, in addition to Michael's, if you're interested), so I'll skip getting into it now. Suffice it to say I really loved it, and if you've never seen it, you should definitely beg, borrow, or steal (well, maybe not steal) season one on DVD to see if you'll get as hooked as I did. It had great action, great characters, great geeks, and some extremely entertaining plotlines. And though towards the end it started to get a little hokey at times (Remember that whole zombie episode with Syd's sister? Talk about "jumping the shark"!), it never failed to entertain me. GREAT SHOW.

Greg's also shown up in cameos on Abrams' shows Lost and What About Brian, as well as a few non-J.J. things like an episode here and there of Monk, House, NYPD Blue, and The Dead Zone. He's also been in a bunch of movies, though I haven't seen most of them and didn't have time to rent them before getting this write-up posted either (the ones I have seen include Hollow Man and Mission Impossible III, but I don't really remember his part in either of those). Why no time for movie rentals this round? Because the one thing of Greg's I DID rent for research happened to be disk one of Season One of another old J.J. Abrams show, Felicity. And once I started watching, I . . . well, frankly, I quickly found myself unable to stop. I've been devouring disk after disk of that show the last couple of weeks, even though I've been extremely busy with about eighty-gazillion other things, none of which are EVER going to get finished if I can't get this Felicity addiction under control STAT.

I simply can't stop! I'm like a junkie jonesing for my next high! And the stunning part is that I never in a million years thought I'd even be able to sit through all of disk one, let alone the entire first season. I never watched this show when it was originally on because I was in my 20's back then and, therefore, had absolutely no respect for or interest in anybody else who was also in their 20's. And so, for all these many years, I've just assumed Felicity would be a show I found obnoxious. Teenage melodrama? Not only seen it, but LIVED it, so thanks but no thanks.

Instead, I've recently begun to realize that now that I'm in my 30's, I've begun to look back on my 20's with a completely irrational degree of fondness and longing. While I was living my 20's, I thought they were at best a big pain in the ass, and at worst, a ridiculous slog through years of overly-complicated relationships and unpredictable mood swings. But let me tell you, five minutes into Felicity, I was right back in my college dorm room, feeling as deliciously and melodramatically complicated as I use to back in those days. And you know what? I LOVED IT. I'm just thoroughly, thoroughly, enjoying being transported back to college as I watch this show. I went through so many of those same experiences, in so many of the same ways. And it's been amazing to watch these characters dealing with situations I so vividly remember dealing with myself.

Anyway, at first, it didn't look like Felicity was going to turn out to be much use in terms of Greg Grunberg research. He doesn't even show up until you're a few episodes into Season One, and for a few episodes after that, his role is pretty minimal. But his part has actually turned out to be hilarious and wonderful, making the show that much harder for me to resist with every passing hour of exposure. The story begins in California, when a lovely high school senior named Felicity, who has a nest of Slinkies where her hair should be, incidentally, gathers up the courage to ask the hottest boy in school, Ben, to sign her yearbook. What he writes in her book is so charming and thoughtful she . . . well, let's just say it outright: she goes completely insane. Overnight, she changes her entire plan for the future, deciding she can't bear to be apart from Ben now that he's so obviously in love with her. She tells her parents she's decided to drop her scholarship to Stanford and go to New York University instead, wisely leaving out the part about her new imaginary boyfriend. They freak out, but ultimately agree to let her go.

And yep, that's right -- our intrepid heroine moves all the way across the country for a boy who has said approximately three sentences to her during their entire relationship. Of course, when she gets there, he's utterly surprised to see her and doesn't even actually remember her name. Whoops! Disillusioned, Felicity struggles for a few weeks, trying to figure out where she went wrong and what she wants to do about it. In the meantime, her gorgeous resident (dorm) advisor, Noel (played by Scott Foley, now starring on The Unit and looking cuter than ever, I might add), has fallen in love with her. Felicity soon decides the real reason she went to NYU was that deep-down she wanted to follow her dream of being an artist and shake free of the plans her parents had so rigidly put into place for her with their overpowering expectations and numerous stern looks. And as she begins to settle into her new life in New York, she and Ben become friends, and she and Noel begin dating, and life becomes good again.

Of course, describing it in this way makes it all sound relatively simple. But these are teenagers, folks, and that means each episode is fraught with invented and exaggerated complexities, ups and downs of moods and relationships, and lots and lots of smooching. It's also oddly filled with a lot of very nonchalantly-handled underaged drinking -- the characters are frequently seen drinking beer at bars, even, despite the fact the oldest one of them, Noel, is only a sophomore in college which means he can't be more than 19 or 20 at the most. This is pretty weird, in my opinion, but I'm willing to overlook it as long as there continues to be all that smooching. I love smooching.

Anyway, Greg Grunberg plays Sean Blumberg (Grunberg, Blumberg -- kind of fun to say six times fast), Ben's roommate. Sean is just awesome -- he's not in college himself, but instead spends most of his time trying to come up with business plans for making himself rich. Like: marzipan boxers (boxing figures for playing with, not underwear), the heads of which you can bite off mid-match; selling fruit for a dollar apiece in the school library during finals week; or, my personal favorite, an invention called "Lact-Os" which is a breakfast cereal in which the milk has been dehydrated and mixed into the cereal itself. Add water, stir, and voila! A bowl of cereal and milk that tastes . . . utterly horrific!

Greg supplies some much needed comic relief to the show, frequently popping up in the middle of heart-to-hearts between other characters to see if they'd like to try his latest invention, thus giving the audience a breather from the heavy weight of maudlin teen angst. He's sort of like a grown-up version of Data from The Goonies, now that I think about it, except not Asian and not wearing Pinchers of Peril strapped to his chest, more's the pity. I just love him. I'm now about two episodes away from finishing Season One, and you can expect me not to get much new Boyfriend research done for a while as I work my way through the other three seasons. I'll have to make the next Boyfriend, whoever he may be, someone I already know very well, or someone who hasn't done much of anything, or else my write-up will consist solely of "Dang, he's cute! The End," which won't be very inspiring, methinks.

In any case, here's a list of things I love about Greg Grunberg -- clip and save!

1. He shows up in lots of TV shows totally unexpectedly and always seems to be having a grand old time with whatever part he's been given, large or small.

2. He's utterly adorable.

3. He's big and tall.

4. He has an extremely cute smile and uses it often.

5. He's friends with J.J. Abrams, and who wouldn't want to be?

6. He's costarred in three of the most entertaining shows I've ever seen (Heroes, Alias, Felicity).

7. He usually plays the same type of character in everything, which is great because I'm madly in love with that character and like to spend as much time as possible with him.

8. SMOOCHING.

Okay, time for a quick bio: Greg Grunberg was born on July 11, 1966 in Los Angeles, California. He's known J.J. Abrams since kindergarten, which explains why J.J. casts him in almost every project he works on (including, incidentally, Mission Impossible III, which Abrams directed). Greg is 6'2" tall, which is, coincidentally, the perfect height for me. He's also married with three children, which is, coincidentally, significantly less of a coincidence and more of a crushing disappointment. Alas.

Greg started his acting career off with commercials, making several high-profile ads for television, one of which was so popular (though I couldn't figure out which one), it got him on The Tonight Show. He also apparently created and ran a successful frozen yogurt delivery service, which is an extremely Sean-Blumberg-from-Felicity kind of thing for him to have done, come to think of it. Have I used the phrase "utterly adorable" to describe Greg yet? If not, consider that box checked now.

Greg's first real acting role came in a TV movie called Stolen: One Husband which aired in 1990. After that, he started to land small roles in TV shows like Melrose Place, Flying Blind, Baywatch, and Murphy Brown. How do I know these were small roles? Because most of his early parts had character names of "Limo driver," "Host," "Double Date Guy," "Date #1," "Man," and "Manager." Not exactly "James Bond," if you know what I mean.

Greg is definitely best known for his roles on Alias and Felicity and Abrams also tried to get a show produced for the 2004 and 2005 TV seasons called The Catch that would've featured Greg in a starring role as a bounty hunter. But instead, Greg appears to be settling in nicely on Heroes, and his role on the series has been expanding more and more with each episode, so I have high hopes we'll be seeing him there for a long time to come. His next planned project with Abrams is a potential part in Star Trek XI, which J.J. is producing. But there's no word yet on what role Greg might play in that film. Here's hoping it's something involving tight pants.

In his spare time, Greg runs a charitable organization called "Hollywood Helping Hands," which auctions off pieces of artwork (as greeting cards) that are finger-painted by celebrities to benefit the Pediatric Epilepsy Project at UCLA (one of Greg's sons suffers from the condition). If you are interested in the charity or the project, check out the links for each below. Very cool, Greg, my man.

Annnnnnd, is that everything? I think it is, and besides, I need to wrap this up so I can get packed for a week of Thanksgiving vacation, which I'll be spending with my parents (those of you who subscribe to the email notification thing for this site can expect a list of movie reviews for some EXTREMELY bad movies when I come back!). So to sum up: if you aren't watching Heroes, you're missing the best new show of the season, which is, quite simply, completely inexcusable, you doofus. If you haven't seen Alias or Felicity, you're also missing out on two of the best old shows of previous seasons, both of which are available in their entirety on DVD so you have no excuses whatsoever. If you haven't seen any of the three of these shows, well, what the hell have you been doing with all your time, anyway? Unless the answer is, "Watching MacGyver!", you can just TALK TO THE HAND.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers! Go Pilgrims!

MacGyver Factor Score: 97.2534%. Points off, because the whole "marzipan boxers" idea was just utterly ridiculous, I'm sorry. Points back, though, because look! If he smiles kind of funny like he is in the photo to the left, he gets a little dimple! Dimples rule! In my world, dimples are even more rulingness than crinkly smiles and messy hair (though, Greg, you would be SO CUTE with messy hair -- please keep this in mind for future episodes of Heroes. The women of the world thank you in advance.)


Boyfriend-Related Links

Greg's IMDb page
The official NBC Heroes site
An amazingly detailed, invaluable Heroes Wiki
Celebrity Cards (the Hollywood Helping Hands site)
UCLA's Pediatric Epilepsy Project site


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