MTV's Video Music Awards
The VMAs hadn't even started yet, and Suge Knight had already been shot in the leg at a preshow party. Fortunately, the Death Row rec exec is expected to be OK, but it wouldn't be a bling-bling bash in Miami if shots weren't fired somewhere in town. It sure is a different show than it was in the late '80s, when Arsenio Hall was the go-to host, the performers actually sang and the biggest drama was Vince Neil punching Guns N' Roses' Izzy Stradlin backstage. Ah, the good old days Still, the gala is always worth watching, if only to gape in amazement at who wore what, who said what and, oh yeah, who won.

But honestly, no one remembers who won. What matters is what kind of impression the performers made with their stage time, and this year only a few acts made me feel like I was seeing something special. Green Day proved that rock is still relevant when they opened with "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." No lip-syncing and no dancing, just Billie Joe's sneer and some pyro thrown in for good measure. Shakira's performance made me suspect that she has double the normal number of human muscles. Dios mio, can that señorita flex 'em. And Kelly Clarkson showed that an American Idol winner can shed that skin when she closed with "Since U Been Gone," the night's sexiest and surprisingly. heaviest song.

Otherwise, the show had me wanting to hand out my own award: the Why Award. It'd be a big question mark ,and I'd give it to everyone whose behavior perplexed me for one reason or another. Why was Diddy changing clothes so often? Why was MC Hammer on stage? Why was Jessica Simpson wearing rags? Why wasn't Lil' Kim in jail already? Why was 50 Cent so angry? And why were most of the performers yelling?

Yet the ultimate Why Award winner has to go to R. Kelly. Am I supposed to take him seriously? The guy acted out the lyrics to his urban operetta, "Trapped in the Closet," and came across as a lip-syncing schizophrenic in a suit. Kelly's wacko performance even inspired me to write my own verse to "Closet": I watched your performance and I opened my closet. I pleaded, 'Please, let there be a noose in my closet. Please, let there be a noose in my closet.' Maybe I'll send it to him. Who knows, he might ask me to "sing" with him at next year's show. As Diddy kept saying, "Anything can happen."  Joseph Hudak

Rome
Oh, man do you love intrigue? Long as it's intriguing, right? And violence? Long as it's justified by the intrigue (and stays on the screen rather than in your actual life). So I know we're in for a treat here, 'cause HBO is no slouch when it comes to good historical drama. First good sign: Everyone has a British accent, which nearly always signifies a class act and oh, yeah, the fact that this is a coproduction with the BBC. Duh. But if anyone knows class struggles, it's the Brits. I mean, when Polly Walker's Atia tells her servant she'll use the eyes of his children for beads if he doesn't bring her son Octavian back safely, can you imagine it coming out nearly so well from, say, the mouth of Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan?

Anyway, like any good epic, this one requires a flow chart, so I can't begin to summarize here. The most important bits: Caesar's been off commanding his victorious army for eight years, sending spoils back to the common people to build his popularity. Pompey, who's supposed to be in charge, betrays him, earning his wrath as Caesar turns his legions toward home, burning as they go. Nice. As for the details, you'll have to catch a rerun, but keep your eye on Lucius and Titus Pullo (he whose "simple tastes" number but three: killing his enemies, taking their gold and enjoying their women), the two soldiers sent on a fool's errand who uncover Pompey's plot and get lucky enough to rescue Octavian along the way. An entertaining beginning, and a neatly built foundation that leaves us all set for the political and literal mayhem to come.  Michael Peck