Pulse: 60 Second Critic

Fast opinions on recent bursts of creativity

TV: Quite Frankly; ESPN2, Monday — Friday, 6:30 p.m.; B-

Spend a few minutes watching Quite Frankly, the new sports talk show hosted by the Inquirer’s Stephen A. Smith, and one name comes to mind: Howard Cosell. Like Humble Howard, Stephen A. is a man with a puffed-up style and many, many opinions. The fact that lots of them are half-baked doesn’t stop their creator from being awfully pleased with himself for having thought of them. Quite Frankly shows up Stephen A.’s shortcomings—he’s not much of an interviewer, and he can’t yet carry a 60-minute show. That said, the man and his mouth are impossible not to watch. This program may be doomed, but here’s betting that we’ll enjoy hating Self-Effacing Stephen for a long, long time. —Tom McGrath

CDs: Bill Ricchini, Tonight I Burn Brightly, Transdreamer; A-

Critics fell all over themselves praising Bill Ricchini’s first release, recorded in his South Philly basement and drawing comparisons to Brian Wilson, Nick Drake and other heavy hitters. Now backed by a major label and boldface friends (Liv Tyler’s hubbo on bass! Aimee Mann’s engineer!), Ricchini delivers another stellar effort that’s both melancholy and serene, sprinkled with moments of haunting beauty and heart-on-shirtsleeves lyrics. “Dark Little Sea” and “Angela” are buoyed by delicate keyboards and Ricchini’s voice, drifting into falsetto, then back down to a warm hum. This should be the soundtrack to a four-star indie film, and could be the best rainy-day musical companion of 2005. —Richard Rys

Clubs: House of Blues; 801 Boardwalk, Atlantic City; B

Elbow room isn’t an issue at the House of Blues, the 2,300-­capacity hall that’s pumping some much-needed musical vitality into Atlantic City. (Think Eminem would have played the Copa Room at the Sands?) The primo seats are center balcony, where the sound is clearest and the view is perfect. If your only options are the extreme sides, save a few bucks in general admission downstairs, where you should squeeze close to the stage—sound in the back gets muddy. Concessions are plentiful, keeping lines short, but please, lose the bathroom attendants. Rock ’n’ roll doesn’t tip for a paper towel and a breath mint. —R.R.

Nonfiction: General Howe’s Dog by Caroline Tiger (Chamberlain Bros.); B+

This slim book by Philadelphia contributing writer Tiger uses a toss-away incident from the Revolutionary War—the discovery of British general William Howe’s terrier amidst a company of American soldiers after the Battle of Yorktown, and George Washington’s return of the dog to its master—as an opening to explore the characters of the two military leaders. Tiger manages to pack in everything from Colonial methods of dog-breeding to the history of foxhunting to a touching vignette of Washington, home from the capital during his first term as president, visiting his old warhorse, Nelson, in the Mount Vernon stables. Worth the price just to learn that G.W.’s favorite bitch was named Sweet Lips. —Sandy Hingston

Magazines: Philth; C

Philth, a new magazine that wants us to think it’s about the ­naughty side of Philadelphia, reminds me a lot of Madonna’s Sex book. As in that book, there are lots of people dressed up in kinky costumes pretending to have sex. Unfortunately, also as in that book, the point of the exercise seems not so much to celebrate sex (which would give it artistic chops) or even get people horny (which would make it good porn), but simply to get attention: Look, we’re having simulated anal sex outside City Hall. Doesn’t that make us edgy? Look, I’m not going to complain about seeing the breasts of local PR girl Rachel Furman. But please, unless you’re going to go all the way with this, stop bothering us. —T.M.