Saturday, April 8, 2006

FOR YOUR CLIPPING SERVICE: If you commented in the Katie Couric thread, you might well find yourself today in the print version of the Philadelphia Inquirer as part of Dan Rubin's weekly roundup of what all us online folk are talking about.

And just to clarify my basic point: it's not that I don't think the Couric move is unimportant -- it's quite important symbolically, and I'll be interested in seeing how she leads their breaking news coverage -- but that I can't imagine myself ever waiting for a daily 6:30 pm network news show to find out what's going on in the world. Watching the network news is like still using a rotary phone in a cellular world.

Friday, April 7, 2006

REALLY, NOT ONE ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL SELECTION? Ryan Stewart from the Boston Phoenix has attempted to list "which SNLers did the best after leaving the NBC womb (or while they were still on the show), which ones fared the worst, and which ones have reached both ends of the spectrum". Though he limited himself to one "best" and one "worst" role per performer, here's a few SNLers whose "bests" were missed:
  • Ben Stiller, Flirting With Disaster. Let's not forget he was briefly on the show; let's also not forget there was a time when we weren't completely sick of him.
  • Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally. Speaking of which . . .
  • Robert Downey Jr., Black and White. So many to choose from for him. Less Than Zero was contemporaneous with his SNL stay; I know Chaplin was supposed to be good, but I never saw it. So I'll take the one with the Mike Tyson scene that you'll never believe if I just describe it to you.
  • Michael McKean, Best In Show: we all liked it, right?
  • Gilbert Gottfried, The Aristocrats: If you're going to list Sarah Silverman, how about the guy who told the joke the best? Also, Aladdin.
  • Joe Piscopo, Johnny Dangerously: My mother let me see that movie once. Once.
  • Jay Mohr, Jerry Maguire: Bob Sugar was a perfect use of Mohr's smarmitude.
It's a long weekend. Have fun with the list in any way you see fit.
IT'S ALIVE! Did we really need an entire wiki devoted to Robot Chicken? That said, the folks behind Robot Chicken are putting out sketch comedy that, due to their 15 minute time limit, almost never overstays its welcome on a single joke (a "long" Robot Chicken sketch runs 5 minutes, with most segments clocking in at a minute to a minute and a half), nor does it feel obligated to beat a joke into the ground. Check it out, if you're not doing so already.
HEAVY ROTATION 2: About 30 years ago, Jon Landau famously wrote: "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." I've had two similar moments. The first was when I saw Barenaked Ladies opening for John Wesley Harding in 1992 during what I suspect must have been the band's first U.S. tour.

The second took place on Saturday when I saw Slo-Mo. It's a band unlike any other I know. Picture a jam band. Now picture a jam band with a talented hip hop front man. Now picture that band with a steel guitar as the key instrument. Finally, picture three amazing female vocalists. As one critic put it, the band is "rocking, hip-hopping, swinging and grooving all at once."

Check out their songs "My Buzz Comes Back" and "Shackamoxon". Then buy the CD (look for "Buy It Now"). Then go see the band perform live. You won't be disappointed.
THAT DOESN'T MEAN THE WRITING WASN'T FOUND TO BE HACKISH: Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown has prevailed in the UK lawsuit brought against him by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. IMHO, this was an obvious one--while Brown's book obviously borrows certain theoretical elements from HB,HG, but puts its own novel spin on the subject.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

NADIR: Are we at an historic low point for the reality competition genre? Just a month and a half after the glorious end of Project Runway 2, we've got the traditional "big three" of reality tv on simultaneously . . . and I don't think I've ever had less interest in any of them.

For The Amazing Race and Survivor, the problem seems to be predictability. The elite have been established, and there's not enough in the way each game is structured this year to shake things up. For Idol, of course, it's the opposite problem -- good, popular performers are disappearing for no reason at all, while jokes like Bucky, Ace and Pickler not only remain in the game but aren't even threatened.

Let's talk about fixes:
  • For Survivor, I just feel like the traditional 16-20 people, 2-3 tribes formula is played out, and when the game is played well by the dominant team, it should be boring to watch. We got lucky the past two seasons -- with Fireman Tom & Ian v. The Tribe That Couldn't Win followed by Judd, Hogeboom, Steph and Danni, we had two drama-filled seasons with great characters and good gameplay, but it's not inherent in the game that it'll always be interesting. (Remember PornBoy Brian? Hell, were it not for the Rupert/Fairplay season, Survivor might be on hiatus right now.) The lack of inter-tribe shakeups pre-merge this season may have been fatal, because there just was no reason for anyone other than Bruce to even consider dual loyalties once united. Maybe it's time for some theme casting -- an all law enforcement or armed forces edition? an all-lawyer edition?
  • For American Idol, look: the goal of the show is not to produce the next great superstar. (If that happens, great, but it's not necessary from Fox's or 19Entertainment's perspective.) The goal of the show is to get you to watch the next episode. So from their perspective, unpredictability is good, because if you knew that Bucky and Ace were going to leave in the next two weeks, you'd probably skip 'em and come back later. But seeing potential winners leave early, year after year, is unsatisfying. Two solutions come to mind: first, and most obviously, pick genres of music with contemporary relevance that allow the best singers to shine. Second, consider adding an immunity-like element to the game itself, either by protecting each week's top performer the following week, or by giving the judges the power to "protect" an at-risk singer -- perhaps, each judge gets to use the power once during the season?
  • And, finally, the Race, and there, I'm a bit flummoxed. This season is showing that maybe too much bunching is better, from an excitement standpoint, than too little bunching. The top two teams have been so well-protected by the race structure lately (and the teams at the bottom given such little opportunity to gain ground) that the race meritocracy I had long sought turns out to be . . boring. It's surprising -- I had always assumed that the nature of the Race was such that as long as you picked eleven decently interesting teams of two and sent them around the world, it was bound to be compelling television. Ain't so.

Meanwhile, the show that has ended up being indestructible and irreplaceable is America's Next Top Model, in its sixth straight great season. Unlike Idol, the judges are in charge of elimination -- and that means that one's body of work (and not just that week) always matters. It's a show that casts well, features relatively consistent challenges that are fair approximations of the career being sought, and is blessed by two of the greatest personalities in the genre in Tyra Banks and Miss J. Alexander. (I'll say it again: I'd love to see Tyra host Survivor or The Apprentice.)

For Survivor and TAR, there's still hope that once we get down to the last 2-3 episodes and the truly elite teams, that things will be entertaining again. (Idol, however, is dead to me, and the Daughtry/McPhee finale will be a non-event.) In the meantime, let's hope that someone comes up with the next great reality concept, because the old favorites just feel played out right now.

PERHAPS THE ONLY TIME MAJOR NEWS WAS BROKEN ON THE VIEW: So, while Andy Rooney's not too happy about the prospect of CBS Evening News With Katie Couric's Legs, Meredith Vieira is, as she'll be taking over Today. So, this leaves our network shuffle with two questions left:
  • Assuming The View survives, who should replace Ms. Vieira? (And Star Jones is getting fired, right?)
  • Assuming syndicated Who Wants To Be A Millionaire survives, who should take over as host(ess)?

Discuss, folks.

PAY STRICT ATTENTION TO WHAT I SAY BECAUSE I CHOOSE MY WORDS CAREFULLY AND I NEVER REPEAT MYSELF: So Jen and I saw Inside Man last night, and we both enjoyed it a lot, but we've got a real disagreement over a character's motivations. If you saw it, I think you'll know what I mean. Join me in the Comments.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

"WHY IS IT ANY DIFFERENT THAN WHEN THERE HAVE BEEN THREE OR FOUR COP SHOWS ON ANY SCHEDULE, OR 'SCRUBS' AND 'ER'?" NBC really wants you to know that Tina Fey's behind-the-scenes-of-a-variety-show show is completely different from that other one that'll be on their fall lineup. Like, she'll have Alec Baldwin.
WELL WE KNOW WHERE WE'RE GOING BUT WE DON'T KNOW WHERE WE'VE BEEN: I feel like I've seen this episode of Lost before, except it was an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (And I've only seen like five episodes of Buffy in my life.) Things I enjoyed: Sun and Jin cracking up as Sawyer got pummeled. Dave's explanation of the island. Every minute of the Henry Gale stuff. The look on Hurley's face when he realized what everyone was running for.
TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROADS: Huh. I wasn't expecting that. Tonight's result demonstrates at least three things: (1) Country week is weird, yo. (2) In general, this season's final nine is stronger than in seasons past. (3) People loooove them some Taylor.

Your theories as to how tonight's interesting outcome came to pass are welcomed in the comments.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: Word on the street is that next week's AI theme is the music of Queen. Taking a quick look at the contents of Queen's Greatest Hits Vols. I & II, I'm not sure I'm convinced of the accuracy of this particular rumor. Setting aside a quip that I refuse to make, I'd give Katharine "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," Ace gets "Somebody to Love," "Save Me" goes to Daughtry . . . other ideas?
DRIP DRIP DROP: Now, I'm a fan of some "Little April Showers," but shouldn't in be rain and not snow? It's been pouring down snow here in NYC for about an hour now.
PUT SOME LEAVEN IN YOUR METHOD: Get out your baking soda and baking powder, your quinoa and your fava beans -- Passover is adopting a big tent policy.

Personally, I find this odd. I am far -- FAR -- from the most religiously observant girl on the block, but even I like spending eight days eating the traditional Passover foods and being careful to avoid the ones you're supposed to avoid. I think of Passover the same way many think of Lent -- a time to deprive oneself to honor the religion and the tradition. The sort of approach being adopted by the rabbis cited in the article strikes me as similar to those who marketed low-carb pastas during the Atkins frenzy -- why bother?
A WELL-SCRUBBED, HUSTLING RUBE WITH A LITTLE TASTE: The NYT's Frank Bruni ponders -- are tasting menus a good thing?

I'm not a fan, and it has nothing to do with price or value. It's control. I think especially given my somewhat finicky eating preferences, given the option between the chef's choice and my own, I'll take fewer options and ensure that every dish is something that I want. You?
A LONG SPELL: Democrats may not be alone in looking to Montana for their next savior. Anna Rose Wright of Belgrade in the Treasure State has earned a place in spelling bee legend with her battle to make it to D.C. this year.

After she and fellow homeschooler Tim Best dispatched the other spellers in sixteen rounds, it took an additional twenty-five one-on-one rounds for Wright to finally best her rival, Best. Four-and-a-half hours later, and Wright was finally right twice in a row after her challenger Best's efforts were not enough.

Among the words you'll want to work on from her epic scrum are dee-fuhr-VEHS-uhns, the abatement of a fever, and YOO-fyoo-izz-um, which is some crazy-fancy writing style.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

STILL, NOT QUITE AS BAD AS GIGLI: There are many things that make new sitcom Teachers painful to watch, but possibly the worst of it is watching Justin Bartha and Sarah Alexander, both likeable, funny performers, flail valiantly against scripts that are painfully unfunny. Considering that creator Matt Tarses has frequently written extraordinarily funny and insightful stuff (he co-wrote "The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee," for cryin' out loud), it's particularly painful to watch.
I'M A VERY LITTLE BIT COUNTRY: Apropos of nothing timely, here's a video clip of Kelly Clarkson singing Stuff Like That There. (Go to the AI performance in clip #37.)

From the sublime to the, well, not, tonight was country night on AI. Setting aside my bummedness that no one delivered up a classic Kenny Rogers or Patsy Cline tune, I enjoyed a couple of people -- both of whom, interestingly, join us from last week's bottom three. Ace, in particular, connected with both the song (Keith Urban's "I Wanna Cry," for those of you who, like me, aren't so plugged into the country thing) and the audience in a way that he normally does not and which was quite unusual in tonight's performances. And Katharine's "Bringing Out the Elvis" was great, except for some swallowing of the low notes. Actually, it was this performance that made me go hunting around for the Clarkson clip -- I want a big band night!

But generally, this wasn't a spectacular night in Idoland. Elliott, Daughtry, and Bucky were all fine if uninspiring, although I thought this was a weird week for Daughtry to decide to sing a straight and relatively dull ballad. Mandisa was better than the judges gave her credit for being. Kellie did as good a job as one would expect during white trash week -- hey, don't yell at me, did you listen to those lyrics? She came across as some sort of weird automaton, though, particularly with all the wiggly-eyebrow nonsense.* And to round out the evening, inhabiting the "ouch" category with gusto: Taylor and Paris. Yick. Double yick.

(*I also don't buy her "explanation" of the seafood pronunciations, although I love that the contestants are being made to answer for the internet chatter after each week's episode. Such is our great power -- mwah hah hah!)

So who goes home? I have no clue. I am expecting to see Paris in the bottom three, but beyond that I just don't know. Does Bucky finally get his long-overdue boot during country week? Other than Ace, all of the repeat bottom three types are gone. Should be interesting.
YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND: Pursuant to an enterprising reader's suggestion, feel free to discuss last night's 24 (and the supposedly amazing plot twist) in the comments to this post. I will chime in once I've watched the episode, hopefully tonight.

Edited to add: Ok, that was twisty. Watching 24 knowing that something big was a-coming made for a very tense hour.
I SUSPECT THAT ADAM C AND I AGREE ON THIS: Fametracker compares Jenna Fischer and Linda Cardellini here.
I JUST WANT MY OWN TRUTH LASSO: So, apparently, Kate Beckinsale wants to play Wonder Woman. While Beckinsale certainly filled out that skin-tight leather suit in Underworld nicely, she's yet to demonstrate the chops to cover Whedon-ese. IMDB has a list of other rumored candidates, which range from the "Please, God, No!" level (Mischa Barton) to the overly art-y (Jennifer Connelly) to the way too old (Kim Basinger). My dark horse pick remains Morena Baccarin, who's lovely and can pull off Whedon's dialogue, with a more plausible choice being Lauren Graham. So, who ya got?

edited by Adam: Oops! Turns out the original Beckinsdale item was improperly sourced. Or, put another way, totally made up. IMDB based it off of an April Fools' joke that it failed to treat as such. Thanks, Dan.

ISN'T ANYBODY AT FOX RIVER ACTUALLY EVIL? Last night's Prison Break was quite Losty, I thought, in terms of the various pieces of flashback crossover. Sucre/Linc, Dr. Sara/Bellick -- all quite interesting. Some random thoughts:

  • I suspect that the relevance of Dr. Sara's backstory has not been fully revealed. Kudos to the makeup people, by the way, who did some fine work on her during both the hospital and the on-the-street scene.
  • With all the "good men doing bad things for good reasons" backstories, I'm glad to see that at least one of the convicts is as eeeeevil as he seems. And we are now well set up for that particular character's plot arc during season 2.
  • Three points about Michael: (1) he has more than a little John Nash about him, no? (2) glad to see that his actions have been motivated by something more than just man, I feel bad for not taking Lincoln's phone call. (3) I want his office.
  • Unsurprisingly, not a peep about Westmoreland's past.
  • Any guesses as to what's actually going on with the VP?
TODAY FOR YOU, TOMORROW FOR ME: Both Bill Carter and Howie Kurtz are reporting that the Katie Couric-to-CBS Evening News thing is going to happen, which prompts three sets of questions:
  • Even if we'll all concede that this matters in terms of a glass ceiling breaking moment, will this matter in terms of your life? When was the last time you watched a network evening news show? (And relatedly, does the anchor determine which channel you'll watch for breaking news?)
  • When Katie Couric is criticized for lacking "gravitas", is it just chauvinism?
  • Who would you like to see replace Couric on Today? Can The View's Meredith Vieira get back whatever gravitas she needs to do the news interviews the show requires?
edited to add: More this afternoon on the Vieira-to-NBC angle, including speculation about What It All Means for the three women already at NBC who are apparently being passed over for the Today slot.

Monday, April 3, 2006

THE ROAD TO WASHINGTON BEGINS: Given last night's festivities, I believe it's time to start this blog's fifth straight year of coverage for the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee (May 31-June 1), and there's no better place to start than with Shonda Rhimes' favorite speller.

Because ladies and gentlemen, at the age of twelve, Samir Patel has earned a slot in his fourth straight Nationals. Among the words he spelled correctly:
  • HUN-dreff: 5250 minutes, as compared to a year
  • kore-nuh-KO-pee-uh: a whole wide mess o'stuff
  • ESS-kuh-tahl-uh-gee: the study of Duncan Black's website
  • uh-FAY-jee-uh: loss of the ability to swallow
  • dee-HISS-uhnse: the process of rupturing, releasing an object's contents.

Patel immediately becomes the odds-on favorite to win this thing, but we've got two months to profile his competition.

SO GLAM, IT'S ABSURD: Is Prince going to be the next American Idol judge/theme?

Comments open to speculation as to what each contestant should sing on Hypothetical Prince Night (Ace -- "I Wanna Be Your Lover", Daughtry -- "When U Were Mine" can be guitar'd and anger'd up), as well as tomorrow night's actual Country Competition.
BETTER THAN PALSGRAF: Many phrases for legal standards have made their way into common parlance--"clear and present danger," "fighting words," "reasonable person," and "foreseeable plaintiff" among them. (OK, maybe not the last one.) But is it too much to hope that the British "moron in a hurry" standard is trademark cases makes its way across the water?
HER DEEP DARK SECRET? SHE'S A BRUNETTE! In the comments a couple of weeks back, there was a rousing discussion of the Dora The Explorer stage show in which the question was asked--"who are these people who play Dora, Boots, and Swiper on-stage?" Today's Times doesn't answer that question, but does give us a profile of the 24 year-old who's the first to play Barbie on-stage in an officially licensed show.
THERE SHE IS, AND SHE JUST GOT PAGONGED: I believe we've discussed something like this before: Miss America is becoming (adding?) a reality series component.

It still strikes me as Top Model but with lamer competitors, relentless cheeriness and no one as quirky as Miss Jay or Janice, but still, probably, exactly what they need.
IS IT THE FONT, THE LAYOUT, OR THE FACT THAT I'M AVERSE TO CHANGE? Raise your hand if you don't like the redesign.

Sunday, April 2, 2006

PERHAPS IT IS AS EFFECTIVE AS TRYING TO SOLVE AN ALEGBRA EQUATION BY CHEWING BUBBLEGUM: Contrary to Baz Luhrmann's advice, a lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court suggests that maybe wearing sunscreen is not the best choice. (Note that the first link features the only quasi-legal/easy to find download of Luhrmann's bizarre hit song.)
SO DOES THIS START THE BEE COUNTDOWN? There will assuredly be much to be said about tonight's (as usual) top-notch episode of Grey's Anatomy, in which I'd argue we got a shout-out. An interesting bit of trivia is that the episode featured former spouses Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Perry. Perry is a H!ITG! of the highest order, who, despite the fact that his only regular TV gig has been a supporting role on Nash Bridges, has managed to put together a wonderful TV career showing up on everything from Lost to My So-Called Life(he will always and forever be Mr. Katimski to many of our readers, I'm sure).

edited by Adam to add: Confirmation via Shonda: "Yeah, that was my shout out to the guys at Throwing Things! And to the spellers!" We are humbled.
EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING: And finally, a Sopranos episode for everyone. Family drama, humor, spirituality and metaphysics, whacking, shocking revelations . . . Paulie . . . I think it's clearer where they're going now, and I'm pretty psyched. To the comments.

edited to add: Sepinwall's review: "[I]f there's a character changing right here and now, it's Carmela. When she warned Tony about Vito, it was the first professional counsel she's offered him in the series. For her entire adult life, she's tried to enjoy the spoils of Tony's work while holding herself apart from it. But after she confessed to Dr. Melfi last week that she had no illusions about Tony's career -- and that she was attracted to that part of him in the first place -- maybe she's prepared to become less Kay Corleone and more Lady Macbeth."
WORST OF THE BEST: Blogger Edward Copeland surveyed film critics and bloggers to determine what was the "worst" Best Picture winner. While heavily tilted towards recent films, it's a good read.

My balot, for what it's worth, was topped by American Beauty, a movie that overwhelms you with its mood on the first viewing, and completely falls apart on previous subsequent viewings, with both the banality of its message (Suburbia Is Bad, Having Sex With Teenagers Is Good!) and, I mean, c'mon, the plastic bag thing?

(Oddly, the smaller one's role in that movie, generally the more success one's career has had thereafter, with John Cho and Marissa Jaret Winokur making much better choices than Wes Bentley, Thora Birch, Mena Suvari and, of course, Kevin Spacey.)
DON'T YOU KNOW IT'S JUST FASHION? Interesting meta-reality talk in a live chat with Tim Gunn about why Project Runway 2's fashions may not have been on the same level as what Austin, Jay and Kara produced in the debut season:
Washington, D.C.: Tim - I am among the ranks of those that love the show and you. My question is 'Where is andre?' Seriously though, I honestly felt like the runway show of season 1 (particularly Kara Saun and Jay) were far and beyond superior to the designers of season 2. The outfits felt more complete, more highly stylized - more runway! Do you agree? And did the show encourage season 2 designers to make the clothes less runway and more wearable?

Tim Gunn: Thank you for this interesting and provocative question. I believe that the season two designers are stronger than season one's as a whole. I also believe that the absence of immunity in season two removed the incentive to win the individual challenges. The designers just wanted to be IN, so risk-taking was seen as being just that, a RISK.

I mean, he's right, right? About the immunity issue, at least. (I don't think that anyone other than Daniel V. could've really competed with last year's top three, do you?) Shows need to reward good work -- Survivor does it with immunity, TAR with early departures on the next leg and occasional added prizes -- but Runway didn't this year, and neither does Idol. Should American Idol introduce an immunity factor? Top Model? Should Runway bring it back?
I'VE GOT A FEVER: And the only prescription is Cowbell Hero for the PS2.