Quick! Read this review of Radar before the mag ceases once again to exist. Grab your bifocals and your lamp and your sarcasm mittens and...

Shoot, too late. It's gone, man. Oh well, we'll always have our memories -- like that Paris Hilton/Dubya cover. Outrageous!

No, wait. Radar lives! For real this time! Haven't you heard? Now it's backed financially by a consortium including Ron Burkle, Jesse Jackson's kid, the Sultans of Brunai and Perak, and no fewer than three members of the 1987 Washington Redskins' offensive line. And it's not going anywhere, at least not for a few weeks.

(Uh-oh. The distribution folks just put a lien on the office Cuisinart. Tread carefully, sweet unsecured creditors.)

For a publication that has existed only sporadically for half a decade now, Radar sure attracts a disproportionate amount of attention. There's three reasons for this, I think. First, understimulated media pups (raising hand) get all tingly downstairs whenever something vaguely reminds them of Spy. Second, Radar, should it succeed, would validate our thoroughly misguided instinct that people care about the back-room machinations of media and information dissemination. And third and most importantly, on those occasional days it has deigned to grace newsstands with its presence, Radar has proven a smart, enormously entertaining read.

Radar v.3.0 more or less picks up where prior incarnations left off. It feels a tad heavier on the celebrities -- probably a good call, given our collective thirst for All Things Angelina - and considerably less inside-baseball in its coverage of them. Too, as far as chroniclers of pop culture go, the mag continues to show admirable ambition and creativity in its story choices.

The March/April issue offers a piece on comics, like Robin Williams and Dane Cook, who borrow their peers' material, and posits the question of why nobody takes plagiarism quite so seriously in that context. It visits with a handful of individuals who, owing to their presence in breakout YouTube clips, have been exposed to massive ridicule. It goes the extra mile in its piece on Wesley Snipes, exploring his alleged alliances with an extremist group/cult (to-MAY-toe, to-MAH-toe) that goes by the name of "Nuwaubians."

As for the humor, it connects more than it whiffs. The last-page "history" of previous Radar covers, though clever ("Wilt Chamberlain's Tall Tale: 'I've Made Love to More Than Ten Women!'"), has been done before by everybody from Mad to Maxim. That said, the analysis of celebrity "Inner Fatties" and "Inner Skinnies" is straight out of the Spy playbook, while any number of smaller items -- a chart comparing female memoirists on "awkward loss of virginity" and "close encounter with pornography," faux cocktail recipes using celebrity-branded vodkas -- elicit giggles.

It certainly helps that Radar's writers are incredibly skilled observers of everything that comes before them. The "Toxic Bachelors" blurb on Benicio Del Toro contains one of the zingier one-liners I've read in a magazine in some time ("If New York's Bungalow 8 is the toxic Algonquin, Del Toro is its dyslexic Dorothy Parker"). Similarly, the "Tweemo" (twee + emo... get it?) fashion spread simultaneously manages to identify a new, loathsome persona and shred it.

In short, I quite like this iteration of Radar, just as I did the previous one and the one before that. And yet I still can't get past a single question: Why are they bothering?

As witnessed by the existence of this li'l column, I agree with editor Maer Roshan's assertion that "great magazines of the kind Radar aspires to be are as essential as ever." I just doubt that this particular model can ever achieve commercial viability.

Much of what makes Radar an involving read for almost-intelligent (and handsome!) people like me -- the swipe at, the aforementioned Tweemo barb, the excerpt from a Bright Lights, Big City-ish novel -- likely won't appeal to anybody but media diehards. I'm not one to speak for anybody else, but I don't think most readers want to hear (predominantly from anonymous sources) about Jim Carrey being a colossal behind-the-scenes pain in the ass; they want to see him making funny faces on Jay Leno's couch.

I also wonder about the repurposing of content. I don't have the time or inclination to go back and check -- it's Fashion Week, for heck's sake -- but I remember seeing both the faux covers and the dialogue with automated online IKEA and U.S. Army attendants on the mag's Web site a few months back.

If a "first" issue arrives with even an iota of less-than-fresh material, what does it say about the magazine's ability to entertain and inform on a monthly/bimonthly/semiannual basis? Besides, Radar Online has long since lapped every other online media/gossip site in terms of compulsive, everyday readability. With the online operation churning out a wealth of compelling material every hour, I can't see the upside in wasting resources on a redundant print product.

I hope I'm wrong, but the recent commercial track record of high-minded media/celebrity publications like Talk suggests that I'm probably not. Godspeed, Radar.


Published by: Integrity Multimedia Company, LLC
Frequency: Four issues per year? Nine? Eleventeen? Let's just call it "bimonthly"
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