Saturday, April 14, 2007

I'M WAITING FOR MITT ROMNEY'S VIEWS ON "DANCING WITH THE STARS:" It's unclear whether Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is a regular viewer of American Idol, but she apparently knows who Sanjaya Malakar is. No word on her husband's thoughts on Haley Scarnato, though.

JORGE POSADA MIGHT HAVE A DIFFERENT REACTION: I keep a 2004 baseball card of Dave Roberts on my desk. From time to time it gets buried under the other papers. Then on days when I sort all the papers on my desk (such as today), I glance at the card and two thoughts immediately come to mind. First, I recall that amazing stolen base of his during Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. That was perhaps the most important moment during the championship run of the Red Sox that year.

The second thought, though, is the one really makes me reflect. I am inspired by people who rise to the occasion when the stakes are high. There comes a time in all of our lives when we are on the spot and there is no gray area. A time when the outcome is binary: succeed and you are a hero; fail and your hopes are vanquished. A time when a true professional simply gets it done. With everyone in the world expecting him to steal, Dave Roberts pulled it off on the big stage. That stolen base is more or less the distilled essence of our lives. Dave Roberts is a hero of mine. As I gaze at his card, I remind myself that when such a moment comes in my life I want to be sure to do what Dave Roberts did.

{credit for part of this post belongs to one who prefers to remain anonymous}

Friday, April 13, 2007

YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU'RE COMPETING FOR? A LITTLE BIT OF MONEY AND A FEW EXTRA WEEKS BEFORE YOU HAVE TO GO BACK TO PUNCHING A REGISTER AT ABERCROMBIE: Maggie reminded me -- before it's too stale I need to post about the most underrated show on television: Real World/Road Rules Challenge. I am irrationally excited about this, the third season of the Inferno (to go along with several seasons of the Duel, Battle of the Sexes, and just general Challenges). This is a show that gets it right -- well-constructed, well-staged, difficult, telegenic challenges (both of this week's tasks -- the dangling-untangling and the Donkey-Kong-esque ladder thing -- were great); great cast (I'm a big Derrick fan, I prefer Abe to his doppelganger Wes, Alton is a complete challenge destroyer, and I am fond of Susie, Tyrie, Cara, Tonya (if only for drama purposes), and the absence of Tina); reliably excellent drunken sex and violence to bookend the episodes.

As an example of how these kids and not-so-much kids (Timmy must be 40 years old by now) just get loopier and loopier, where previously it took at least a few episodes for Tina and Brad to get thrown out for punching people, this time sociopath CT did it -- totally unprovoked, except maybe by his own homophobia -- before the first challenge. Just great TV. Wish they made it in HD.
LET'S PLAY 81: After the awesomeness of King Felix over Matsuzaka on Wednesday, MLB decided to cancel the rest of the Red Sox-Mariners series (yeah, yeah, rain, whatever). So now, what was supposed to be 10 games into the season, the Mariners already have missed 5, which they'll have to make up -- including in trips to Cleveland, where the Mariners aren't even scheduled to play again -- on off-days when other teams are resting and doing their laundry. They've played two games in eight days. I realize that they're not going to be in a pennant race, but this is at least hypothetically ridiculous.
WRITER, FIGHTER, JUNGLE FEVER-HAVER: As a counterpoint to Adam's "scary how much we love this show" comment about The Office, witness last night's 30 Rock, an episode that I think has helped the show just about sew up this season's triple-crown of televised comedy: jokes-per-minute; laugh-out-loud jokes-per-minute; and "did they really make that joke on national television?" jokes-per-episode. Let's recap: more Thomas Jefferson racial satire, some horse-masturbation, and a little September 11 riffing. Top that edgy stuff off with some self-deprecating Uno jokes, brilliant use and invention of the fictitious avian bone syndrome (but I had to look it up, and I consider myself an exotic medical ailment enthusiast), the actual highbrow use of a George Stubbs painting (a particularly odd choice, since I think of 18th-century American painting lovers as particularly, and necessarily, humorless), and rewards aplenty to continuity fans. It's scary how much I love this show.

And yet: did they think I wasn't going to notice the hamhandedly plotty placement of the Fat Bitch poster where Who Dat Ninja? previously hung?
INSULTS HAVE REPERCUSSIONS: The ripple effect from this Don Imus thing is getting pretty crazy. Now we've got New Jersey gazillionaire governor Corzine in critical condition after a car crash en route to mediate between Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team.

Meanwhile, the guy driving the pickup truck that ran Corzine off the road should really just step forward posthaste. Between the Jersey state troopers and the not-exactly-meager resources available to Corzine personally, it's not like he's not going to be found.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

SHUN. UNSHUN: Every once in a while, we peer into the dark, cynical heart of The Office, and "Safety Training" tonight followed through with its premise so well that this episode moves immediately near the top tier of episodes, and the James P. Albini reference may push it towards Yankee Swap territory. I liked it so much, I'm bringing my parents back for the matinee tomorrow. And a long-sleeved t-shirt, in case there's a draft.

As one TWoPer put it tonight, I'm afraid of how much I love this show.
MA NISHTANA HALAILA HAZEH? Just checking on this one, but is there any doubt that Rob Marshall's 1999 telemovie adaptation of Annie, with Kathy Bates, Alan Cumming, Victor Garber, Kristin Chenoweth and Audra McDonald, is vastly superior to John Huston's 1982 big-screen version with Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Albert Finney, Bernadette Peters and Ann Reinking in the respective roles? (Also, it had that Punjab nonsense.) Like, any doubt?
MAYBE IT CAN BE A DOUBLE-FEATURE WITH PASSION: Apparently Rob Marshall's next big screen effort will be an adaptation of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's Nine. I have to say that Nine does not strike me as a musical yearning to be transformed into a film. But then again, it also does not strike me as a musical that one needs ever to see on a stage.

Other than Jane Krakowski swinging from the ceiling, my experience with the 2003 Antonio Banderas revival constitutes a couple hours of my life that I can never get back.
THE NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL HAS A FEVER: Is it my imagination or is Andrew Cuomo trying out for a role Cowbell: The Movie? (Fast forward to the clip that begins at 0:56)
WHY WASN'T THE INTERVIEW AT RED LOBSTER? Today's NYT follows around the "meticulously unflappable" Tim Gunn at various Project Runway auditions, and notes his gift for swift, accurate, but polite, rejections. Particular credit for the writer managing to strike that close balance between obvious fan of PR (the reference to "Gunn's face turned as red as Laura Bennett's hair" is very nice) and squeeing fanboy.
SO IT GOES: Kurt Vonnegut was 84.

Added: The L.A. Times has an excellent remembrance and Washington Post "Book World" columnist Michael Dirda hosts a chat about Vonnegut at 2 p.m. EDT today.
SEE YOU IN A WEEK: Okay, do any of you naysayers have any nay to say about this week's Lost? Because I've gotta say that "One of Us" had pretty much everything I look for in a solid episode: on-island plot advancement; an interesting, enlightening flashback; a bit of hearkening back to an earlier episode with some additional "ah, now I get what was going on"; and even that rarest of rarities, an end-of-episode payoff.

(Yes, Jack's lack of questions and the rationale underlying said rabid lack of curiosity is of course annoying, but I'm glad to see that for a change, there are people looking for answers. Even if they don't get them.)

More in the comments.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

MY MOMMY WON A CHALLENGE AND ALL I GOT IS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT: I have two comments about tonight's ANTM. The first is that this show, much as I love it, is not such a core component of the pop cultural pantheon that there should be a photo shoot hearkening back to great moments of the show from yesteryear. The second is that there are very few things in this world that I hate more -- and that are less often true -- than someone claiming that she is a very complicated person.

My desire to throttle The Complicated One notwithstanding, tonight's booting was absolutely the right one. Sometimes a pretty face is a model, but sometimes it's just a pretty face. (And sometimes it's not even all that pretty, but that's subject to personal taste.)
CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN'T LOSE: Producers--watch that finale episode of Friday Night Lights. That's how you do a season finale--callbacks to just about every major event of the season, authentic emotion, and leaving the characters in a different place than where we started them. Kyle Chandler probably doesn't have much a chance of winning an Emmy (he's up against Hugh Laurie, Michael C. Hall, James Gandolfini, and Kiefer Sutherland), but he's making the best case he could possibly make for a nomination. Connie Britton faces less stiff competition (especially if she goes as lead, keeping her out of the way of the Oh/Heigl/Wilson/Walsh group from Grey's and in a category where 3 of last year's 5 nominees cannot return) and made yet another astoudingly good case. I'm a bit worried the supporting cast may not get their deserved recognition because of their youth and the fact that they haven't done a ton of press (it might help to re-edit the credits to allow people to link the actor names with characters), but wonderful work all around.

Sepinwall's got more, and Maureen Ryan has the transcript of Coach Taylor's St. Crispian's Day Speech.
AT LEAST ONE READER OF THIS SITE WILL NOT BE FINE WITH THE DECISION: But America, generally, will move on, and I realized that as mediocre as last night's Idol was, it could have been worse -- just imagine what Chris Sligh would have done last night. Or that woman from the tryouts who did Shakira but nothing else. (Then again, why didn't LaKisha try "Whenever, Wherever"?) Or Sundance Head. Remember, America, we've got Sanjaya, but we've been spared some other atrocities.

Next week: country music, with Martina McBride.
A CERTAIN ... MORALLY CASUAL ATTITUDE: PTI lets us know that actor Peter Riegert, notable for playing Donald "Boon" Schoenstein in Animal House, Mac McIntyre in Local Hero (one of my all-time favorites) and Assemblyman Ronald Zellman in "The Sopranos", turned 60 years old today. Otter turns 60 later this year; Pinto not for another six years and Flounder not until 2015.

In completely unrelated news, but I ought to throw it in somewhere, DC-area thingthrowers (hat-tip to Ms. Cosmopolitan) with nothing to do around lunchtime on Thursday can see me at an ACS panel on campaign finance law.
STILL A BIT UNHAPPY THAT WE LET BILL SIMMONS STICK US WITH THE 'DICE-K' NICKNAME: Apparently everybody is talking about the Ichiro Suzuki-Daisuke Matsuzaka matchup at Fenway today. I'm not sure I see what the big deal is. I'm an Ichiro! fan, but he's a few years off of his prime, and it's not as if these two haven't faced each other before. A better reason to be excited about this game? The pitching matchup between two guys -- Matsuzaka and the just-turned-20 Felix Hernandez -- carrying huge expectations and coming off sublime season debuts.
HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE THINGTHROWERS: A request for book suggestions from frequent thingthrower Gretchen has reminded me that I have many, many hours of flight time coming up over the next month, including at least three flights of more than ten hours. With that background at your disposal, please recommend some reading material.

Gretchen requests something light and fun, but sufficiently well-written that she need not cringe while reading, and offers chick-lit and fantasy as potential genres. As for me, my tastes run toward historical fiction and cultural/social history, as well as fantasy. You may exclude anything that requires unduly heavy mental exertion. (As an example, I do not do Umberto Eco under any circumstances.)

Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter.
NOW IS THE TIME ON SPROCKETS: Let's see if I can get this right. There's a robot named Keepon, and it looks like two tennis balls -- kind of cute -- and it dances. Oh yes, it dances. To Mac Dre's Thizzle Dance.
To Spoon's I Turn My Camera On. To Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Over the Rainbow. Hard to explain, but mesmerizing.

Edited to add: Okay, I loved it already, but now that I know that Keepon was designed to help teach social interaction to children by modeling certain nonverbal social cues -- eye contact, awareness, excitement, curiosity -- Keepon is my hero.
WE LEARNED MORE FROM A THREE MINUTE RECORD, BABY, THAN WE EVER LEARNED IN SCHOOL: On a long drive recently, a friend and I got to talking about songs that had truly taught us some important lessons about life, particularly ones that had stood the test of time. In effect, the question became was there a single song (or two) that summed up your own personal creed?

It took me a while to think about this, but in the end the answer was clear (although I'll mention a strong #2 in the comments). For me, it is the central verse of Stevie Wonder's "As":
"We all know sometimes life's hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
So make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren and their great-great grandchildren will tell"

AND YOU GET MORALLY OUTRAGED AT EVERYTHING I SAY: If last week's House was all about reversals (Cuddy being House and House being Cuddy), this week's was all about substitutions, with Wilson playing surrogate House, random airline passengers playing substitute Cottages (House's reduction of the Cottages to their essential personality traits was brilliant), hooker playing substitute friend, and Cameron/Chase realizing that they can't always get what they want (unless "what they want" is getting down in a patient's bed after sneaking into her home). I'm not sure how the medical science works on the other airplane passengers (psychosomatic rashes? really?) and the PPTH case rang of both the toxic pants case and the termite poison/dead cat case from Season 1, but that was pretty darn good.
ASK ISAAC ABOUT THE "HEART OF CHINA" SNAFU: I've seen ESPN screw up drafts and what-not in its fantasy leagues before, but what's happening right now in its baseball leagues is ridiculous. Following pervasive errors . . .

We have explored and tested every possible solution and it is clear that the nature of the issues leave us with a single, necessary action to get the game back on track and ensure the integrity of the season. Late on Wednesday night the ESPN Fantasy team will:

1. Revert all teams to their opening day rosters (Sunday, April 1).
2. Set the starting lineup of each team's opening day roster as the active roster for all games played to date (April 1 - April 11).
3. Retroactively apply scoring for the entire season to date based on that roster.
4. Void all transactions to date (trades, waiver pickups, roster moves, etc.).

Refunds aplenty, free Insider subscriptions and free FFL teams are our compensation. You can chart the progress of A League With Thrown Baseballs here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

WORD UP: I've been knee deep in it (and by it, I mean work and home stuff and not hoopla, you Starship fans), but I wanted to share this list of 20 Cool Cameos from Premiere "no longer a" Magazine. I'm sure you all have many good ones to share that didn't make the cut, so share you may in the comments. As I have often stated, I am partial to Xavier McDaniel's brief, yet pivotal appearance in the Singles.
IT WAS ONCE UPON A PLACE SOMETIMES I LISTEN TO MYSELF: Since I mentioned in Matt's thread that Robie House is one of the ten most architecturally-significant (which is not to say best) American houses, I thought I'd round out the list. Off the top of my head, and accepting that I can't count, I came up with the following list. I realize it skews modern, which is personal preference, and that it skews extremely LA, which I think is totally legitimate -- LA, unlike New York, Chicago, and most older cities, is principally a single-family-residence town, and most of the houses built in older cities were built in less architecturally ambitious times; if we were listing non-residential architecture (or multi-residence architecture), I think the list would skew the other way. If you live in the south, sorry, your house sucks. Anyway, in no particular order: And while I'm at it, here are four that will never make the list:
ON THE '866': I've got very little to say about American Idol's tribute to the lesser-challenging works of Miami Sound Machine and Carlos Santana -- Beatbox Blake was probably the best on Marc Anthony's "I Need To Know," and, no, Sanjaya wasn't hideous, and the only real highlight was the Phil's-voice-breaking lowlight at the end of "Maria Maria". The women all did their things, and not that excitingly -- the rhythm did not get Jordin Sparks, Haley did not turn the beat around (but loves to hear percussion and wear short-shorts), and LaKisha can still control herself very much longer and did not, in fact, do that conga.

Fienberg weighs in: "Melinda's voice is, as always, flawless, but J-Lo told us that this week's theme is all about passion, which is where Melinda goes a little flat. She seems to confuse 'Squinting' with 'Being Sexy,' which is a fairly common mistake, particularly on Idol."

And I agree with him: LaKisha's in trouble this week. This may have been her "New Attitude".

Simple Pleasure, American Style - New York Times

THE IDEAL MODERN BROWNIE IS SIMPLE AND UNADORNED, BUT RIGOROUSLY DESIGNED (LIKE A DIANE VON FURSTENBERG WRAP DRESS): Just in time for the end of Pesach, the NYT discusses brownies, offering several recipes that we will all need to test. Like, now.
MY KIND OF TOWN: Since I know many of our readers and posters have links to Chicago, I figure I should ask for advice. I'll be in the Windy City from April 27 through May 3 at a conference, which is at McCormick Place, though I'm staying downtown. While I have a number of evening engagements and the conference runs from 10-5 most days, I have a fair amount of down time. What should I make sure to do and see while in this fair city? (Next year's is in Berlin, which should be a bit more exotic, though why can't I get some nice conferences in Vegas?)
WHEN I SAY HEY THOU SHALT NOT SAY HO: I'm not sure I agree with more than half of this stuff, and it's a little internally inconsistent ("thou shalt not take the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Johnny Hartman, Desmond Dekker, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, or Syd Barrett in vain"; "thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals"), but I appreciate that Dan le Sac has taken the time to give us a complete set of the rules by which we should live our lives. I also appreciate that he took the time to grow that beard.
FOXWOODS, MARSHALL'S BACHELOR PARTY, SHE GOT CONFUSED BY THE SMOKE MACHINE AND BROKE HER ANKLE ON A HIPPITY HOP. FACE IT, KIDS, THAT'S HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Not that I have anything in particular to say about the episode (except that it worked largely because Ted did not play a central role), but it seems weird not to have a post. The thread's all yours, should you choose to comment in it.
MAKE THE FIRE, FIX THE BREAKFAST, WASH THE DISHES, DO THE MOPPIN', AND THE SWEEPIN' AND THE DUSTIN' -- THEY ALWAYS KEEP HER HOPPIN': We're taking Lucy to Walt Disney World in a few weeks for her fourth birthday, and she knows that we're taking her for "Cinderella's Gala Feast" one night for dinner with Cinderella, Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother, various mice and the like. Stated Lucy this morning: "I need to bring my apron on our trip, in case Cinderella needs help in the kitchen. Maybe I will help her clean!"

Any advice for this journey would be appreciated.

Monday, April 9, 2007

THE SNOW FALLS HARD AND DON'T YOU KNOW THE DOGS OF DOOM ARE HOWLING LOW: I guess this may just seem like kicking a region when it's down, but look, Cleveland, if you can't guarantee that it's not going to snow for a full week in April, and if you don't want a park with a retractable roof, then you just shouldn't have your home opener until May. And if you're unwilling to wait for the weather to clear to host four games -- by my count, 57% of what was supposed to be the Mariners' young season -- then quit bitching and moaning about how you would have won if the game weren't called on behalf of a certified blizzard. I don't care if you were supposedly one pitch from a five-inning technical win -- did you really think an ump was going to let a guy throw 90 mph in the general direction of a batter when the batter couldn't even see the ball coming? And anyway, you're supposed to go nine innings before the Mariners give up. Five innings is a cheap technicality of a win -- only about half of the time it should take for the Mariners to get outclassed.

And I'm looking forward to the part of the season where the Mariners and Indians try to find enough room in the schedule for four doubleheaders. Maybe they can just pick a warm day and play a quintupleheader.

Bibliography: Deadspin; USS Mariner.

A Fictional Video on MySpace Puts a TV Show’s Promotion Into Hyperspace - New York Times

I'M GOING TO ROCK YOUR BODY 'TIL CANADA DAY: The NYT has a piece on HIMYM's use of online extras, and, yes, you can still visit the Robin Sparkles MySpace page.

Tom Shales - 'Thank God,' Eventually It Ends -

THANK GOD, TOM SHALES IS HERE: Because when he hates a tv show, it's pretty awesome: "[T]o the kind of morbid curiosity seekers who slow down not just for overturned trailer trucks but even for killjoy cops harassing motorists over broken taillights -- this critic can safely say, 'Hey, have I got a show for you!' All others will want to beat it to another channel, even if it's got an infomercial by one of those guys insisting you can make a million dollars a day buying dilapidated old houses."

Sunday, April 8, 2007

I'M WAITING FOR TURTLE/DRAMA ON CELEBRITY TAR: TAR and Entourage normally don't share a whole lot in common aside from cocky/annoying men, but tonight's episodes of both felt a whole lot more like setup than a self-contained episode. With TAR, that was the result of a plane issue that the producers couldn't have prevented and some colossal bad luck which meant that who would be eliminated was clear by about 15 minutes in. With Entourage, so much time was spent setting up season-long plot threads that will head in predictable directions (Ari will rage, Turtle doesn't understand money, E will be uptight about money, Drama will be deluded, and Vinny will breeze through effortlessly) that we didn't have a whole lot of time to have anything happen. So, where do we go from here in both instances? Who will get their comeuppance first--Ari, Vinny, or Charla and Mirna?
UNDER THE BOARDWALK: Is Tony Soprano a vindictive man? Is his sister a good mother? How do the family's women feel about fellatio? If you'd like to discuss, we're here, but obvs, Sepinwall first.

e.t.a. Matt Zoller Seitz too: "Sunday's action was all about enforcing hierachies and deepening the status quo; it was a demonstration of Tony's inability to escape being Tony even when escape is the whole point."
OMIGOD YOU GUYS: The good news about Legally Blonde: The Musical is that it's already (with 3 weeks of previews to go) a pretty good show (and will certainly sell a lot of merchandise, if today's crowd is any indication). The even better news is that they have some time to work out the kinks in the next few weeks before officially opening. On the off chance someone associated with the production looks at this, a few pointers:
  • The biggest problem is in Act II--the two ballads "Legally Blonde" and "Find My Way" stop the show, and not in the good way. The former in particular is one of those Songs That Goes Like This, and I understand the narrative purpose and all, but it needs to be more upbeat. "Find My Way" is better, but it suffers from being the finale--given that the show is all about pep and joy, it's kind of odd to close on a low point. There' s an easy fix to that one by tacking a reprise of "What You Want" in at the end.
  • The sets are a tad minimalistic, especially in part of the "Legally Blonde" number--a fair amount of barren stage and such. You can get away with this for a small show in a small house (e.g., The Apple Tree) or when the show itself calls for it (A Chorus Line), but in a big house for a big show?
  • The sound mixing needs to be fixed. I found it hard to hear a number of the lyrics.
  • Michael Rupert is fine as Professor Callahan (the Victor Garber part, and I'd love to see Garber take a crack at it), but needs a bit more venom to him, especially in "Blood In The Water."
  • There are still a few minor choreography and lighting snafus, particularly in the Act II opener. Iron these out ASAP, and this should be a contender for best choreography--the jump rope number and, yes, "Bend And Snap" are spectacular.
  • Overall, the show and its performers are at about a 7 on the energy scale. I was in the (half-empty) balcony, and for the show to truly take off, I think the energy needs to be amped up a bit. I might have had a different read from the orchestra, though, and that's a tough balancing act. In particular, Laura Bell Bundy (as Elle) needs to just push it a little harder, since she has to carry the show.

I'm sure several of those (the mixing and the tech issues at least) will be fixed by the end of previews, and I think the show can look forward to decent notices and a decent run. ALOTT5MAites who are fans of theatre and legal stuff will be well served.

HE WAS PRETTY GOOD, THAT GUY. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME I DIDN'T CALL THE POLICE: Once in a while, WaPo columnist Gene Weingarten does something completely brilliant -- you may remember his profile of The Great Zucchini, a children's entertainer, or his interview with Garry Trudeau on the influence of the Iraq War and his wife's mental illness on his work.

Today, again, you need to read him, because, wow, what an experiment: Weingarten convinced world-renowned classical violinist Joshua Bell to play his Stradivarius at the L'Enfant Plaza DC Metro Station during forty-three minutes of the morning rush hour to see what kind of reaction it would draw. Would his greatness be recognized out of context?
It wasn't exactly stage fright, but there were butterflies," [Bell] says. "I was stressing a little."

Bell has played, literally, before crowned heads of Europe. Why the anxiety at the Washington Metro?

"When you play for ticket-holders," Bell explains, "you are already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I'm already accepted. Here, there was this thought: What if they don't like me? What if they resent my presence . . ."
Read the article. Contains video.

e.t.a.: Weingarten's live chat is now online. Comprehensive and cool.