Saturday, October 27, 2007
Also, attached to the film was the trailer for Love In The Time Of Cholera, which seems like painfully bad Oscar baiting effort, and which provoked substantial and audible laughter in the theatre when the "Original Songs By Shakira" title card popped up.
I have to say that I was surprised by the production values of the thing -- from impeccably timed prerecorded Cat Deeley voiceovers ("Welcome . . . to so you THINK you can DANCE!") to well-written and shockingly well-delivered patter from the dancers themselves that, like, made Jaimie, like, giggle, sound articulate, while Dominic was given a number of self-deprecating comedic sketches. The producers did a really impressive job of recreating the "our show in your living room" communal spirit that is, to me, one of the most appealing aspects of the TV show.
And there was dancing, too -- tons of it! Solos (actual choreographed ones, from what I could tell) from all of the top ten dancers plus at least 25 group or partnered routines. All of the greatest hits were represented, from Sabra and Neil's "Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)" workplace dance to the oft-touted-by-me hummingbird and flower dance (Hok! Hok! Hok!) to the Danny/Anya foxtrot to the Mia's dad dance to the hobos cabaret to the Benjy-choreographed west coast swing to the Dmitri-choreographed samba to the Lauren and Pasha we-are-the-machine dance and so on. If you can think of a dance you particularly liked during the season, it was danced on the tour. Sabra got very little in the way of special attention -- she got to dance the last solo, and was alluded to as the winner a few times, but that was it. And even though the teenybopper contingent was less dominant than I'd anticipated, they were loud Loud LOUD when it came to screeching for Danny and Neil whenever they set foot on stage.
If there was one glaringly odd choice, it was Kameron and Shauna dancing the Shauna/Jimmy "Ease on Down the Road" number from maybe week two of the finals. Shauna was apparently brought on the tour as some sort of alternate/understudy (along with Anya, Hok, and Jesús), so her appearance wasn't terribly weird, but plopping Kameron into the Jimmy role for what was never a memorable dance to begin with just underscored the degree to which Kameron made it as far as he did in the competition solely by virtue of being the prop around which Lacey danced. In a two-hour show chock full of great moments, the fact that Kameron didn't have any great moments of his own was pretty obvious.
So now, having been to my first SYTYCD tour, I think it's pretty safe to say that Mr. Cosmo and I plan to attend next year's festivities! Go Room 19!
Finally seizing upon a viral opportunity, NBC has released the full audio of the song and is encouraging fans to create their own music video versions.
Friday, October 26, 2007
We have many van der Woodsens to discuss, gang.
Gossip Girl seems to tell us that there's nothing to look forward to, and there will be nothing to look back upon ... except more of the same. We're not just destined to become brittle materialistic adults; we already are brittle materialistic adults by the time we hit puberty. We have no choice. We're wired for misery. If we have money, we're destined to be miserable with it. If we don't have it, we're destined to be miserable without it, and spend our lives with our noses pressed up against the glass.
And this demoralizing little message is the real meanness of the series.
Gossip Girl represents nothing less than the soft death of youth culture and rebellion and self-determinism.
After World War II -- during which comics became a favorite entertainment of American GIs -- comics reached even greater heights of popularity. Sales figures were breathtaking, with average monthly circulation reaching 70 to 100 million by 1953, and well over 90 percent of teenagers reportedly read comics regularly. At that very moment, however, comics ran into growing criticism from politicians, civic leaders, and child-development experts, who argued that comic books corrupted their young readers by condoning violence, mocking authority, and trafficking in sexual innuendo. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham brought the anti-comics crusade to a head with his 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, which in turn led to an investigation, public hearings, and a scathing report by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (commonly known as the Kefauver committee). In the familiar pattern of an entertainment industry choosing to censor itself (rather than allow government officials to do so), the leading comic-book publishers hurriedly unveiled the Comics Code Authority in October 1954; much like Hollywood's Hays Code, the Comics Code prohibited potentially offensive content and required writers and illustrators to secure the CCA's seal of approval for any publication. At precisely the moment when the movies and popular music were starting to embrace youth culture and to commodify teenage rebellion, the comics were becoming domesticated and sanitized.
Of course, the comics weren't dead yet, as they would enjoy a revival in the 'sixties "Silver Age" and another wave of commercial and critical success with the ambitious "graphic novels" of the 'eighties. Yet comics would never again enjoy the broad-based popularity they had in the early 1950s. Still, comic book lovers remain an unusually and intensely devoted audience, perhaps the ultimate "fanboys." (I believe we have a number of comic aficionados around these here parts.) But what exactly causes this geekly love? Why do comic books inspire such fanatical commitment among their readers? And is that commitment fundamentally different from the devotion stimulated by other forms of pop culture?
Next week: the birth of rock 'n' roll, Elvis, and baby-boomer girl culture.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The Office? Just okay. Poor Dwight. Loved Darryl's song.
In a flashback to what must be Season 1, Ross is explaining to Monica’s cooking-school friends how he picks up women, and Monica is openly mocking him, and one of her friends is like “mm-hm, tell me more, Professor,” but sarcastically, and nobody is buying it. So Ross calls over Joey for support, and Joey just mocks Ross's hapless seduction techniques. Ross continues to teach, but Joey keeps interrupting to disprove everything Ross says about scoring. By the end of the afternoon, he has made out with all of Monica’s friends.
Back in the present, Joey routinely holds forth on picking up women, sex, how to break up painlessly, the importance of food in a one-night stand, and other matters of the heart. In walks Rachel to her apartment, where the gang (minus Chandler) is gathered, and in the course of a story about some whirlwind romance, she drops a little nugget about a foolproof combination of flirty gestures and sweet nothings that a woman can use to get any man immediately interested – not just interested, but tied-up-in-knots interested. The gang, and particularly Joey, loves the story about the whirlwind romance, but dismisses the come-on technique as impossible. When Rachel defends herself, Joey dares her to prove the Technique’s success at Central Perk.
That afternoon at Central Perk, the gang identifies the tallest, darkest, coolest, handsomest, and gayest guy in the place – the guy most likely immune to the Technique -- and turns Rachel loose on him. She does the flirty gestures (hair twists, ankle dips, arm touches, coy half-smiles, etc.) and makes the small talk. The guy is impassive, and Rachel returns to the couch. The gang (still minus Chandler) needles her about her failure, but Rachel tells them to wait. A commercial break and b-plot later, the guy walks up and says, “I don’t normally do this kind of thing with, uh, your kind of people – women -- but would you like to get a bite to eat?” No, Rachel says. The guy’s overtures grow increasingly frantic, until he’s pleading from outside the window.
Believing that it’s Rachel’s pulchritude, not the Technique, that did the damage, Ross says that somebody more ordinary needs to try it, like Monica (cue familial cross-sarcasm). At that moment, Chandler (remember, this is before his relationship with Monica) walks in. Monica uses The Technique, but it’s a hot mess – she rushes it; she’s obvious about it; she seems a lot crazy. Hilarity ensues when, despite Monica’s pathetic delivery, Chandler is reduced to a drooling puddle of lust. It works! The gang returns to Rachel and Monica’s apartment to demonstrate appropriate appreciation for Rachel’s discovery and explain it to Chandler, and the Technique makes occasional appearances throughout the remainder of the series.
All of that actually happened, except Ross is Ed Levi, and Joey is Aaron Director, and Rachel is Ronald Coase, and Monica is Milton Friedman, and the handsome gay man is George Stigler, and Chandler is most of the rest of the world’s economists and law professors, and Season 1 is 1953, and Season 3 is 1959-60, and picking up chicks is antitrust law and the pseudo-economic theory on which it is based, and Monica’s friends from cooking school are Robert Bork and Abner Mikva and Henry Manne, and Rachel and Monica’s apartment is the Journal of Law and Economics, and Rachel’s whirlwind romance story is The Federal Communications Commission, and Central Perk is Aaron Director’s house, and the Technique is the idea that in the absence of transaction costs a good will naturally wind up in the hands of its most efficient user, and explaining it all to Chandler is The Problem of Social Cost.
Next week: Joey convinces Phoebe to debunk the Standard Oil myth.
The fact is that I would much rather watch a positive-message daytime talk show hosted by DK, yet another in a truly-impressive collection of great kids in the Kid Nation cast (notwithstanding a few understandably childish ones), than one by Tyra. That said, I think ANTM, with its tight structure and small-group dynamic, has been great for Heather, my favorite contestant this season. Tyra has cured autism in record time -- less time than it took her to cure lupus, impetigo, blindness, epilepsy, and low self-esteem, and about as long as it took her to cure bad weaves and Katrina-homelessness -- and Heather is taking phenomenal pictures. I only hope that she isn't getting the peaked-too-soon edit.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Instead, the surprise is that the show is succeeding despite every attempt by the producers to fuck it up. I can forgive the cheesy Pioneer backstory that, for some reason, the cast is pretending (not convincingly) that it believes, and the ham-handed themes of the week ("religion"; "Soviet democracy"; "killing chickens"). And I actually like the "instant gratification or long-term good" choice that they give the kids weekly (though we'll see how that plays out when the kids realize they're going home soon). Those, though, are little issues.
What I really can't forgive is the feudal conception of society the producers are trying to impose upon the kids. The show is built around a series of competitions -- representing war in the societal analogy, I guess -- that stratify the four teams by class, in an impenetrably tangled metaphor. The losers are deemed "laborers," for a nickel a week; the third-place team serves as cooks, for a dime a week; the second-place winners are the merchants, for 50 cents a week; and the winners are the "upper class," with no work obligations, for a dollar a week. The problem with this is that both the competition and the spoils are contrived. People (kids) will find non-artificial reasons to align themselves in conflict (witness the kids' societally-accurate conflicts over religion). As for the consequences of the competition, the rigidity of assigning both tasks and salary, as opposed to salary alone, seems to be inhibiting what could be a very interesting demonstration of the Coase theory at work. It would have been very satisfying to watch the hard-working kids separate the lazy winners from their consumer surplus. It's therefore particularly galling that the show's point seems to be that once you are given (or born into) a caste, you're stuck there, doing what you're told, until a higher power decides to move you up or down.
If the producers' anachronistic view of society is a huge problem, though, it's not insurmountable. Apart from the cuteness of the kids -- my favorite is the sensitive nine-year-old bespectacled genius with the lone giant tooth into which all of the wisdom of the world has been calcified -- the best part of the show is the struggle between contestants and contest. One ongoing plot line is the town's effort to get the Yellow Team, comprised principally of work-averse Jon-Benet-alike Taylor and her layabout minions, out of the kitchen to which they are routinely assigned, where they consistently fail to feed the town. The effort is led by Sophia, a hard-working pain-in-the-ass earnest white girl if ever there were one, and Zach, the Yellow Team's roll-up-your-sleeves pariah (note: what, exactly, is the show saying about the paradigm of the Industrious Jew?). The solutions, so far, involve the town banding together to do the work themselves and, alternatively, freeing Sophia (the town's best and most eager cook) from her outhouse-scrubbing duties to do the Yellow Team's work. This week, according to the promos, Zach will up the ante in an appropriately society-building way: by withholding Yellow Team salaries if the Yellow Team fails to do its job. Another loose plotline involves the town basically giving the finger to everything the producers tell the "Town Council" to make the town do, like organizing a townwide religious ceremony.
I'll enjoy the show for its kids-acting-like-they-think-adults-act way, its kids-acting-like-kids way (Campbell, last week: "let's do something fun. Looking at cows is fun"), and its occasional Charlie Brown kids-actually-acting-like-adults way as long as it runs. But what I'd really like to see is the kids rebelling against the caste structure and letting the market have its way. You want your toilets scrubbed, Blue Team? Then let's see you part with some of that dollar a week you're getting. Now that's how you build a society.
Wow, that's a lot of rambling about a reality show, albeit one that could have been one of the best reality shows ever if the producers had faith in its premise. Anyway, tune in tonight.
Well, first and foremost, of course, television happened. But the movie business itself also changed dramatically, thanks in part to the Supreme Court's 1948 Paramount decision, which forced the major Hollywood studios to give up their movie theaters and abandon anti-competitive booking practices. Although some observers thought this "free market" would actually stimulate the movie biz, it instead fostered an increase in rental fees for popular first-run movies, which theaters then passed on to their patrons with higher ticket prices, which in turn discouraged many potential moviegoers. In addition, suburbanization and the baby boom both prompted one-time movie fans to seek their entertainment closer to home -- where the tube was happily waiting for them.
So, what's a movie mogul to do? Some studios turned to spectacle, focusing on the "A" pictures and making them memorable events, worthy of a night out. MGM became a fabulous factory for musicals, such as Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), featuring splashy costumes, extravagant sets, and vivid color. Other producers poured millions into sprawling epics like The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben Hur (1959), often filmed in new wide-screen formats like CinemaScope, the better to capture their casts of thousands. And some filmmakers catered to the youth audience, those teens who were beginning to chafe at the conformist culture of the 'fifties. Perhaps drawing courage from 1952's "Miracle decision," which guaranteed First Amendment protection to movies, writers and directors featured more rebellious, volatile, antisocial heroes, like Johnny Stabler (Marlon Brando) in The Wild One (1953) and Jim Stark (James Dean) in Rebel without a Cause (1955). Whatever the genre, movies of the 1950s tried to offer audiences something that they couldn't get on a black-and-white TV.
For a time, these efforts were successful, as movie attendance briefly rebounded in the mid-fifties. But box office figures soon declined again, leveling out in the 1960s, and since then, weekly attendance has remained stuck at around ten percent of the population. Clearly, for many folks on this blog, the movies still hold a sense of wonder. But can the movie industry ever regain that prominent pop-culture position it once enjoyed? Or is it destined to survive primarily as an adjunct to the small screen, sustained by DVD sales, on-demand rentals, and downloads?
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Of course, as a Bay Area native, I might not be the right person to eulogize the man. I assume for much of this readership, the Rice-a-Roni commercials were your first regular glimpse of San Francisco, much as Sesame Street still colors my view of New York.
And does Hunter S. Thompson singlehandedly outweigh Boston's entire literary tradition?
Monday, October 22, 2007
- Pretty much everything Apatow-related. No MSCL means no Freaks and Geeks.
- Friday Night Lights. The stark realism, honesty, and willingness to focus on outcasts are clearly children of MSCL. (Also, Veronica Mars, which is MSCL plus murder mystery, at least to an extent, and Felicity, which is MSCL goes to college.)
- Wicked. Book by MSCL creator Winnie Holzman.
- The careers of its cast, with Claire Danes becoming a (small) movie star, A.J. Langer and Tom Irwin continuing to work consistently in TV, and Jared Leto remaining famous for...um...being pretty.
- Subsequent Herskowitz/Zwick TV projects, including Once and Again and Relativity. (Among those who had big breaks on those shows? Lisa Edelstein, Richard Schiff, Poppy Montgomery, Adam Goldberg, and Evan Rachel Wood, and Patrick Dempsey's appearances on Once were part of how he become McDreamy.)
Celebrate the show. Knowing the demographic of this site and prior discussions, most of us have seen it. If you haven't, get thee to a local DVD emporium. If you have, you've probably already got plans to buy.
TV's rise neatly coincided with several key postwar trends, including economic expansion, the Cold War, suburbanization, and the baby boom. These developments in turn fostered some of TV's most striking features: its corporate organization, its role as "family entertainment," and its tendency toward conformity and standardization. Even more than radio before it, television was "born commercial," designed from the start not to deliver programs to viewers but to deliver viewers to advertisers. Accordingly, the major networks organized their schedules with military precision, filling time slots with programs best suited to the demographic cohort expected to be watching at that particular moment. Again, it's a familiar practice to us today, but we need to think about what that business model has meant for the content of television.
Early TV programming was not especially innovative, drawing heavily on formats already developed in other media. The Kraft Television Theater (1947) inaugurated a collection of "anthology drama" series; Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater (1948) launched a wave of variety shows; Hopalong Cassidy (1949) laid the groundwork for the mid-fifties explosion in westerns. For many viewers, though (then and now), TV's defining genre was the sitcom. David Marc's Comic Visions: Television Comedy and American Culture, excerpted in our textbook, offers a rigorous (if sometimes jargon-heavy) survey of the sitcom's rise, highlighting not just the technological developments of three-camera shooting and live studio audiences but the thematic trends that distinguished early comedies, from I Love Lucy (1951) to The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961). Time and again, Marc argues, sitcom heroes and heroines might push against the boundaries of postwar conformity, but they always wound up back home in the end, safe in the social order of Westport or New Rochelle. It was precisely this comfortable predictability, Marc claims, that made sitcoms the quintessential form of postwar popular culture.
By 1960, ninety percent of American homes had a television, and TV would reign as the dominant medium of popular culture for the rest of the twentieth century. My question to you: Is it still dominant? Is TV still at the heart of America's pop-culture life? Or has its place been usurped by PCs, the Web, and other digital media?
My fondest memory of Indian summer is of a Saturday in the last October I spent in Seattle, when I spent most of the day tooling around my favorite parts of the city on my motorcycle -- along the canal across from Seattle Pacific, into Montlake and the arboretum, up into Sand Point and down among the waterfront cabins, then back up with the lake and the Eastside filling up the rear-view mirror. I have had a lot of memorable drives -- I-70 dipping down into Colorado River canyons; Route 34 into the back roads of Woodbridge, Connecticut; Highway 1 up into and down out of the Canadian Rockies; Kamehameha Highway on Oahu -- but I think that lazy Seattle circuit was my favorite.
We've already done the "worst airport" thread today. Does anybody have a best drive on this beautiful fall day?
In happier news, at least for the people who work on the shows, Private Practice, The Big Bang Theory, and The Unit have all been picked up for 22 episodes.
Update: Yes, TAR is back, effective November 4. The TAR leadin? Pats v. Colts, which ought to bring in some viewers.
- In an article about how when The Darjeeling Limited goes wide, it will be paired with the (much superior) "prologue" short Hotel Chevalier, the NYT claims that Chevalier star Natalie Portman "does not appear in the feature." While Portman's appearance in the feature is very brief, dialogue-free, and almost completely unbilled, she does appear.
- In an article contrasting how House and Prison Break have coped with the need to transform their premises to stay fresh, Edward Wyatt asserts that "Dr. Gregory House fired one of his long-suffering assistants, leading the other two to resign." In fact, Foreman quit, and in an (exceedingly misguided) effort to get Foreman to stay, House fired Chase, leading to Cameron's resignation (and some very odd hairstyling choices by Jennifer Morrison).
We're quite certain that the Times regrets the errors.
But there is one battle that seems fair to start the week: which airport sucks less -- Boston's Logan International Airport or Denver International Airport? Do you prefer ancient and skeevy, or modernist, baggage-mishandling and ridiculously far from downtown? Explain your reasoning; show all work.
It feels like a good time to link to the New Yorker's profile of Manny Ramirez from April 2007, and with that, let the talking of trash and offering of predictions and thoughts commence.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Temple Owls: 3Ugh.
Philadelphia Eagles: 2