Friday, May 5, 2006

WE STAND ON GUARD FOR THEE: I'll be in lovely Toronto Ontario for the next few days engaged primarily in work-related program activities. If you happen to be attending the conference I'm attending or if you know of anything I should make sure to do or see while up there, let me know.
BIG NUMBERS INCLUDE "WILL YOU GO TO LUNCH," "THAT'S MY NAME," AND "PUT ME ON THE BOARD:" I'm really not making this one up--the first ever David Mamet musical will make its debut next year in California. A Waitress in Yellowstone "follows the story of the title service worker who, on the eve of her trip to the national park to celebrate her son's 10th birthday, discovers a Congressman stealing her tips and reports him to the police."

Thursday, May 4, 2006

THE COUNTRY'S MOST INFLUENTIAL INDUSTRY HAS NOT THROWN IN THE TOWEL ON ANY ENDEAVOR THAT DOES NOT INCLUDE THE COURTING OF TWELVE-YEAR-OLD BOYS: Almost two weeks ahead of upfronts, NBC has announced that Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" will be part of the 2006-07 primetime lineup.
BOBBLEHEAD JOE OR DWIGHT FART SCHRUTE, SECURITY RISK: I don't know that tonight's episode of The Office made "The Leap" as much as the desire to have a "big" season finale next week meant that certain conflicts, indeed, had to be taken from Toby's file and aired out. In a way, it led to a show more vicious than anything one generally sees on Survivor.

One note about next week, which I'll put in spoiler-text: you would have assumed that the season would end with Pam and Roy's wedding, but clearly, that's not the case based on the preview. Which makes a certain line in tonight's episode that much more of a gut-punch, as well as the wordless shot at the end.

Just one more episode? Damn.
AT THIS POINT, THEY MIGHT AS WELL CALL THAT THING A 'TERRY': Phrases we never need to hear again on Survivor: "Immunity, back up for grabs." "Y'all want to know what you're playing for?" "I'll go tally the votes. Once the votes have been read, the decision is final; the person voted off will have to leave the tribal council area immediately." "Terry wins immunity again!"

I just hope Cirie knows what she's doing. It's great to think about F2 pairings, but first, you have to get there.
MINUTES OF THE COMMITTEE ON IMPROVING EVERYBODY'S LIVES IN MINOR AND FREQUENTLY IMPERCEPTIBLE WAYS:

Unanimously approved: Every fiftieth song played over the sound system in a mall, food court, or casual-dining restaurant shall be a song recorded by ELO.
TALK TO PERSEPHONE: As promised, here's the story explaining (sort of) The Lost Experience, the first clue for which was provided in that Hanso Foundation commercial last night.

For anyone who's interested, feel free to use the comments to discuss.
PROJECT CHRISTMAS, GIVE US SOME ANSWERS, WE'VE GOT NO TIME FOR THESE SILLY PLOTS: So the conflagratory events at the end of last night's Lost ended up pretty much overshadowing a similarly twisty conclusion to last night's Alias. I've now had a little time to recover, and so am ready to open discussion on The Return of Sloane Version 1.0. For the first time in the five-year history of Alias, I feel comfortable saying that when a character is killed, he or she is actually dead. (Having only a handful of episodes left does tend to free one from the shackles of retaining character optionality.) And I think that these last episodes are a return to early Alias, which is always fun. (Sydney under a full West Virginia alias is a hoot under any circumstances.)

What's not great is that it seems inevitable that many of the loose ends left dangling during prior seasons will never be wrapped up. I'm always glad to see Rambaldi as a core plotline, but I just don't see the writers looking to resolve the many unresolved Rambaldi strands. What was that machine way back when -- il dire -- that got built from the 47 different Rambaldi artifacts? What of the prophecy? Who actually is the chosen one? (At one point it looked like the Sydney/Evil Nadia battle at the end of season 4 was intended to be the fulfillment of the prophecy, but now I don't think so.) What happened to the whole "quest for endless life" idea? What was in the test tube of green Sydney goop that Sark slid into his pocket?

And then there's the most frustrating unresolved mystery: there is no doubt in my mind that the document that Lauren led Sydney to at the end of Season 3 was originally intended to be something other than confirmation of Jack's role in Irina's "murder." There is also no doubt in my mind that the document was originally slated to further the Project Christmas plotline. And there is increasingly no doubt in my mind that we will never hear another word about Project Christmas. Grumble.
I STILL WISH THEY HAD CALLED IT 'THE FASTEST AND FURIOUSEST': For those with an interest in predicting the summer box office winners, the Philadelphia Daily News' Summer Movie Madness contest should be right up your alley. Entries must be in by Friday at noon.
THE DUNDIES ARE LIKE A CAR WRECK THAT YOU WANT TO LOOK AWAY, BUT YOU HAVE TO STARE AT IT BECAUSE YOUR BOSS IS MAKING YOU: Yes, we link to Alan Sepinwall a lot, but if he's going to say that 'The Office' leaps to a level of further transcendence with Thursday's episode, we ought to listen:

TV shows rarely get a chance to make The Leap. The great shows tend to be great from the start. But occasionally there are shows that need a little time to figure out what works and what doesn't, and by the grace of patient schedulers, they get that time.

The first couple of years of "Seinfeld" were nothing to write home about, not until Jerry, George and Elaine spent an entire episode waiting for a table at a Chinese restaurant. (And even then, the show didn't become consistently brilliant until the Keith Hernandez episode.) "The Simpsons" had heart and physical comedy from the start, but it wasn't until seasons three and four that it turned into the anything-goes satire we know and love.
To me, it's already been at that level since it at least "Booze Cruise", if not as far back as "Diversity Day" itself, with "Valentine's Day" as the highest of high points this season. I've previously written about how so much of the pathos derives from everyone's being stuck, and in that sense, the show's best comparison is "Cheers". Except there, you never had the sense that anyone had higher ambitions for his or her life than spending it in a bar with their compatriots; here, you acutely feel that almost everyone wants something better out of life but is unable to get there from here, whether it's Jim wanting Pam who wants better than Roy, Kelly wanting Ryan who wants to get out of his temp job, Angela wanting more with Dwight who wants to be the boss (but will never succeed Michael), and, of course, Michael, who wants to be the cool, admired boss he believes he already should have become. Only Stanley, really, seems content to treat it like a job and go home to his family at the end of the day, and doesn't much care about what his co-workers are up to.

The only other comparison I can make is to "The Larry Sanders Show", which had an equally narcissistic boss, delusional about his workplace popularity, only replace TLSS' pervasive insecurity with its inverse. Instead of the pressures of working in an ultra-competitive town-slash-industry where everyone's conscious of his place in the global pecking order and looking for the next opportunity, you've got a workplace in which nothing you will do can change your lot in life, as you're still living in a dying coal town.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

I'M SORRY: Holy shit.

And has anyone gotten through on the Hanso number yet?
I WENT OUT TO THE FOREST AND CAUGHT A HUNDRED THOUSAND FIREFLIES TERMITES: So I finally had the chance to watch a Race episode the evening it aired, and it was amusing . . . to a point. Because if you know anything about the Race, you know that when there are four teams remaining and four hours of racing to go including the two-hour May 17 finale, well, you've got a feeling about how it's going to end.

Only, with all the vicious taxi karma and the yielding, you didn't think it was still going to be that interesting of an ending. Kudos to the Amazing Slo-Mo Editors, and it's time for Thailand, home of one of my favorite episodes ever, as well as Survivor's worst season.
BRING US THE FINEST MUFFINS AND BAGELS IN THE LAND: Two years ago today, Adam was gracious enough to invite Alex and I to join him at this joint, and I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to him, the rest of the ALOTT5MA blog crew, and to all of y'all out there in CommentLand, for making it a great two years. It's been great getting to know all of you folks through the magic of the Interweb, and even better to meet a few of you folks in person and telephonically. So let's all raise a glass tonight to the continued listing of things thrown five minutes ago--long may we list such things!
"I AM TONY STARK" JUST DOESN'T HAVE THE SAME RING TO IT: Following up on a post from last week, the headbangers over at VH1 have chosen Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" as the Greatest Heavy Metal Song of All-Time. Other notables in the top 10 include "Welcome to the Jungle" (2), "Back in Black" (4) and "Crazy Train" (9).
SUIT UP, MARSHALL -- WE'RE FLYING TO CHIANG MAI! Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segal are hoping for a celebrity version of The Amazing Race (second item). Give me Barney and Marshall trying to route themselves to Vienna from Montevideo , and you've got yourself one ardent supporter of Celebrity TAR.

T.R. Knight and Isaiah Washington strike me as another good idea for a team. And Victor Garber and Michael Vartan. Others?
THE TROUBLE WITH THE WORLD TODAY, IT'S PLAIN TO SEE, IS GRANDE IN A VENTI CUP: Now that the warm weather is almost upon us -- what do you order for your morning coffee these days? (Me: Grande iced decaf coffee in a venti cup with one equal and a ton of skim milk.)
SO THAT'S WHY HE DROPPED TO TENTH PICK: NFL Draft disappointment Matt Leinart is apparently dating Paris Hilton. I somehow expect Messrs. Kornheiser and Wilbon to have something to say about this one.
IS THERE ANYTHING MORE TO BE BROUGHT ON? In case Bring It On Again wasn't enough for you, Bring It On 3, starring Hayden Panettiere and Solange Knowles, will arrive in video stores later this year. Seriously, folks--just because you caught lightning in a bottle once, no need for a sequel, especially ones that involve no one from the original movie.
ABC AND THE BEE: In a blow to those of us who work out of our home, the National Spelling Bee is going prime time. While ESPN will still air the early rounds on June 1, the final rounds of the perennial (edited to be no longer be ironically misspelled) ALOTT5MA favorite will be broadcast on ABC that evening.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

WHO KNEW THAT THE BEATLES WERE STILL RECORDING IN 2006? Erratic would definitely summarize tonight's AI. There are few enough contestants remaining that I'm comfortable delving into bulletpoints:

  • Elliott: I'm back to my usual meh on Elliott after last week's unusually favorable reaction. "On Broadway" is one of my all-time favorite songs, but I have to reveal my inner geek here (or maybe it's not so inner) by confessing that I far prefer the Yale Whiffenpoofs' arrangement to the bow-chicka-wow-wow George Benson version that Elliott covered note for note, riff for riff. And that Michael BublĂ© song was just boring. (And I really wish that Michael BublĂ© had changed his last name. I can't help but get all Beavis and Butthead about it.)
  • Paris: To me, "Kiss" was exactly the sort of thing she should have been singing throughout the finals, regardless of what the judges had to say about it. I just thought it was cool. As for her second song, I had to take a wild guess that the "Mary" the judges were referring to was Mary J. Blige, and I'm pleased to see that I was correct. (When did Mary J. Blige become an artist recognizable by only her first name?) I never heard the song before, but thought Paris did a nice job with it.
  • Daughtry: Dude, that was Styx's Renegade! Great song, and I loved hearing Daughtry sing it. I have no idea what his second song was -- the words "I Dare You" are hard to google, yo -- but I totally agree with the judges that he sounded like his vocal cords were about to implode. Go drink some lemon tea pronto.
  • Katharine: Adam nailed her 1984 song choice, much to my bummitude. That just sucked. But I lurved that "Black Horse in the Cherry Tree" song. And I am violently prejudiced against all new music, so that's saying something.
  • Taylor: I can't believe that someone on AI sang "Play That Funky Music, White Boy," but I guess if someone was going to do it, that someone would in fact be Taylor. Not that this was a great vocal, but it was fun to Let Taylor Be Taylor. Someone should write that on a napkin. I also enjoyed his "Something," although I didn't think it was nearly worth the pimp slot. (Can someone tell me what the Billboard "pop catalog" chart is? Is it just an extended version of the annual top 500 songs of all time countdown on WYSP that provided the soundtrack for every Labor Day weekend of my youth?)

Although this was Paris's best week in a long time, I think she's lost a lot of voter goodwill and will likely find herself in the bottom two. And much as I love her, I suspect Katharine will be joining Paris there -- although I personally would obviously prefer to see Elliott hit the road.

GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME: Sesame Street meets the Wachowski Brothers in "C For Cookie".
A TAX CUT WE CAN ALL GET BEHIND: A question spurred by my visit to Brooks Brothers today on my lunch hour--under current New York taxes, clothing items and shoes costing less than $110 are no longer subject to sales tax. So why did I have to pay sales tax on the four pairs of silk knot cuff links I purchased today (4 pairs for $20!)? Aren't they clothing items as well? I mean, aren't cuff links essential to the wearing and operation of french cuff shirts?
PHILLY REPRESENT! The NYT's Frank Bruni, surprising himself, really liked Buddakan NYC:
If a restaurateur is going to enter the competitive downtown arena of pseudo-Asian pleasure domes, he might as well go for broke. . . . [T]he real surprise is how good many of Buddakan's alternately faithful and fanciful interpretations of it are. A restaurant this sexy doesn't need to be smart.
The Philadelphia original is still going strong, almost a decade later, with a menu that contains my single favorite dish in the city -- their lobster fried rice, which is ridiculously addictive. Starr's restaurants thrive because on top of all the style and spectacle, the food still remains top-notch, so I hope his NYC venture thrives. (Now when are they bringing back my Blue Angel?)
THE BEST PART OF GOING TO MOVIES, WITHOUT PAYING THE $10.75: It's a big day for movie trailers on the Interweb, with three big huge movies getting trailers released, all of which are worth your time:
  • Superman Returns, the trailer for which indicates that Kevin Spacey's cold streak may finally be coming to an end, but makes me worry that the movie will be a little too joke-y for its own good, but still, I'm so there opening weekend.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which certainly offers a great deal of swash being buckled. (And a question--has there ever been a movie about which you expected less and got more than the first Pirates, which I was convinced would completely suck, but wound up being pretty darn great?)
  • Casino Royale, which seems to have left behind the silliness that was the last couple of Bond flicks for a far more "realistic" take. We don't get too much of an idea of the type of Bond Daniel Craig is likely to be, but certainly this has promise, given that Martin Campbell's Goldeneye was, by a pretty good margin, the best of the Brosnan Bond films.
YOU HAD A BAD DAY, YOU'RE TAKING ONE DOWN, YOU SING A SAD SONG JUST TO TURN IT AROUND: Not a good day for Michael and the Fox River gang. Not a good day for the inmates, and not a good day for the prison staff.

A few things that surprised me:

  • I was not expecting Michael's reason for taking the support beam to be what it was. Desperate times . . .
  • I was not expecting Michael to have honestly misjudged Tweener. I'm still hoping I'm wrong on that one and waiting for the "ah, so Michael really IS brilliant" twist that seems less and less likely. Anyone besides me think it completely undercuts Michael's prior history as ever-resourceful smart guy with unfailingly good instincts about people?
  • I was not expecting Sara to react quite so poorly to Michael's news.
  • Not everyone likes to eat brussels sprouts, apparently.

I did think that the montage was extremely well done, except in that it underscored the fact that there are apparently all of two bad inmates at Fox River.

ENQUIRING MINDS: A few random and unconnected questions that have been floating about:
  1. Do we know why Vito Spatafore limps?
  2. Was the montage music from last night's Prison Break the same as the House theme, or just very similar to it?
  3. Did anyone besides me scream at the TV until you figured out who was playing the divorce lawyer with a seizure disorder on Grey's Anatomy? And were you tickled when you realized who it was?
THESE ONES GO TO 100: Big ol' lists this week from Time (The 100 Most Influential People) and Reader's Digest (America's 100 Best).
TROUBLE IS, I HAVE BEEN WITH A NERD BEFORE. Why, oh, why? In the name of all that is good and decent in America, do we need a remake of Revenge of the Nerds?
I WANT SOME HUGGIN' AND SOME SQUEEZIN' AND SOME MUGGIN' AND SOME TEASIN': Sepinwall speculates on why we haven't any truly memorable moments -- good or bad -- during Idol's season five:
Part of the problem has been song selection, and the blame for that falls equally on the producers and the contestants. Ever since the fiasco of Showtunes Night last season, the themes have been so open-ended that we're about two weeks away from Songs That Rhyme Night. But when the contestants are left to their own devices, they pick songs that are either not right for their voices, sleep-inducing, or both. This season's Songs of the 21st Century Night was worse than bad --- it was boring.

When you give the contestants a very specific theme, you force them to push against the outer limits of their talents, and you get performances that are either spectacularly awful or ready for the time capsule. Kelly did "Stuff Like That There" on Big Band Night, Clay did "Solitaire" on Neil Sedaka Night, and while "Summertime" came on the relatively unspecific Movie Night, it was a song Fantasia had never heard before. . . .

Again, it's okay if a performance goes bad. Some of the most memorable "Idol" performances have been the out-and-out disasters -- not just freak show auditions like William Hung's, but finals fiascos like John Stevens applying his three-note range to "Crocodile Rock," or Corey Clark sounding like a strangled chicken on "Against All Odds." If you don't give the contestants room to be awful, you probably won't let them be great, either.

This thread is open for this topic, as well as speculation/suggestions for Year You Were Born/Current Hits night.

Monday, May 1, 2006

AND AS WE LIKE TO SAY, MALO IS BAD IN ANY LANGUAGE: Okay, so I haven't actually watched an episode of The Real World since Las Vegas (anyone still watching?), but how can you write an article about the ethics of the show's interventions in the lives of its cast members without mentioning Ruthie from the Hawaii season?

A quick Google check suggests that she's cleaned up her act, and is still doing the college circuit lecturing kids about alcoholism and binge drinking. Also, it reminded me that her season was back in 1999, which was way long ago, but Damitol's excellent recaps remain available. Still, other than maybe San Francisco, it remains the greatest Real World season ever, right?
IT STILL DOESN'T EXPLAIN THAT WEASELY GUY WITH THE GUNS WHO SPOKE ITALIAN SO WELL: Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe analyzes this Sopranos season through the prism of male insecurity:
In the first seven episodes, he has been depicting the male gangster psyche through a prism of weakness, insecurity, and fear of fading masculinity. He's giving us a sort of anatomy of the school bully. All the guys are being depleted in the power department this year -- Tony by Junior's gunshot, Junior by Alzheimer's, Johnny Sack by a jail sentence, Silvio by asthma, Bobby by an infantilizing Janice, and Christopher, once again, by Hollywood and drugs.

The result is a spectacle of compensation, as the boys' ongoing fight to be alpha dog has taken on a desperate edge. The more their masculinity is threatened, the more extreme their "masculine" behavior becomes. . . .

Many of you, I imagine, will keep reading.
AND NOW, I'LL ANNOUNCE THIS WEEK'S BIG PLOT TWIST! The Chicago Tribune Maureen Ryan has interviews with two folks from How I Met Your Mother today--series co-creator Craig Thomas and co-star Cobie Smulders (note that the Smulders interview contains a big spoiler for the season finale, with warning above), which shed some light on their frothy treat of a sitcom.
CONGRESS NEEDS TO MAKE IT WORK: Vessel hull designs currently have special protection under the Copyright Act, so why not fashion designs as well? The most interesting thing is the proposed three year limit on protection--is that enough to protect the work of designers from being knocked off? Also, how on earth do you evaluate these sorts of copyright claims? Looks like we could have Tim Gunn finding an additional lucrative career as an expert witness on "novelty" in fashion design.
SAFE BET THIS ONE WON'T BE DANCING IN SEPTEMBER: You know, I feel badly for the cast of the Earth, Wind, and Fire dance musical Hot Feet. Not only do they have to endure pans like the ones from the Post and the Times, but they have to do it while wearing the costumes pictured in the Times review, which look like rejects from a Vegas revue.
GREAT SPEECH AT THE WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' DINNER, OR GREATEST SPEECH AT THE WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS' DINNER? On Sunday night, Stephen Colbert made with the funny, right in front of the President and First Lady, Justice Scalia, Senator McCain, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others:
Now, I know there are some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in "reality." And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

. . . . Sir, pay no attention to the people who say the glass is half empty, because 32% means it's 2/3 empty. There's still some liquid in that glass is my point, but I wouldn't drink it. The last third is usually backwash. Okay, look, folks, my point is that I don't believe this is a low point in this presidency. I believe it is just a lull before a comeback.

I mean, it's like the movie "Rocky." All right. The president in this case is Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed is -- everything else in the world. It's the tenth round. He's bloodied. His corner man, Mick, who in this case I guess would be the vice president, he's yelling, "Cut me, Dick, cut me!," and every time he falls everyone says, "Stay down! Stay down!" Does he stay down? No. Like Rocky, he gets back up, and in the end he -- actually, he loses in the first movie.

OK. Doesn't matter. The point is it is the heart-warming story of a man who was repeatedly punched in the face. So don't pay attention to the approval ratings that say 68% of Americans disapprove of the job this man is doing. I ask you this, does that not also logically mean that 68% approve of the job he's not doing? Think about it. I haven't.

Full transcript here.

"THE JOB OF A LOVE SONG IS TO TELL THE OLDEST STORY IN THE WORLD AND MAKE IT NEW." Nearly every week I read the NYT Book Review, but it's not often that I read a review that makes me want to go right out and buy the book in question. This review of Daniel Handler's Adverbs certainly made me want to do so. Note the comparison to the works of Nick Hornby, an author the readers of this blog love. Also note the well known pseudonym under which Handler has written most of his other books. Check out the first chapter here.

ALSO, DINOSAURS WERE INVOLVED: Jen and I returned just a few hours ago from a weekend trip to Seattle, to see our own Phil Throckmorton become lawfully wed on a drizzly evening on the UW campus. Thankfully, and wisely, umbrellas were distributed as party favors, but it could not have felt more warm and friendly under that tent. Seriously, Mr. and Mrs. Phil are quite the perfect match, and we wish them well.

Their wedding was the first I've attended with a reading from the Goodridge opinion on the importance of civil marriage, but I'd rather honor the couple with the quote they chose at the start of their printed programs. From The Odyssey:
There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends.

Delighted we are, indeed, and we wish them all the happiness in the world.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

NATURE V. NURTURE: It feels odd posting anything about what's below, but I'll try.

Tonight's Sopranos returned to what seems to be the theme of this season -- can we change who we are? -- through three characters, Tony, Vito and A.J. Details ought to be left for the comments, but, wow, that scene with Tony and A.J. was immensely affecting. Maybe people can change . . . but some things, we've learned, may be hereditary.

Also, who's running the Crazy Horse now, anyway?

edited to add Sepinwall's take: "Either last night's Dartford scenes were a deliberate homage to [Douglas] Sirk or writers Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider went overboard trying to illustrate how different Vito's new world is from the one he abandoned. There were times where it didn't just feel like a different world, but a different show. But those occasional missteps didn't take much away from another fascinating episode, one that continued to push this season's themes of identity and change. I was wrong when I declared in my episode four review that Tony couldn't change. This is not the same man Junior shot. Old Tony doesn't shrug off Vito's 'crime.' Old Tony can't give Artie meaningful advice about his business. And no way does Old Tony turn down a pants party with Julianna."
BEYOND SADNESS: Jennifer Dawson, wife of our friend in the blogosphere Matt Zoller Seitz, died suddenly on Thursday night at the age of 35. Besides Matt, she leaves behind two children -- daughter Hannah, 8, and son James, 2.

There are no words that can comfort with a loss so profound and shocking, but there is at least something we can do.

In the days after 9/11, Dawson spent her nights as a volunteer at Ground Zero feeding the rescue workers, after a full day of working at her job and caring for Hannah. So the family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the American Red Cross, and we can all do that right now.