Saturday, May 10, 2008

BETTER THAN KRAFT DINNER: If I had a million dollars, I'd certainly consider investing in Gordon: A Barenaked Musical, the currently in development musical with an original book based on the songs of Barenaked Ladies. (Quasi-related--while at the movies tonight, I saw the trailer for Hamlet 2, which looks like it may be worth seeing just to hear the entirety of "Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.")
SPANISH INFANTAS TRIUMPHANT ONCE AGAIN: I'm not sure how many people are on the email distribution list to be informed on the day the Social Security Administration posts the prior year's baby name data, but you can be assured that I am one of them. And thus I am able to inform you that the 2007 name data was posted this week.

Not a lot of news coming out of the top ten for either girls' or boys' names -- the only name not appearing in last year's top ten is Elizabeth, up from #11, pushing out Samantha. Isabella has moved from #4 to #2, squeezing apart the Emily/Emma combo that has been on top for the last four years. Madison skidded a bit to #5 after seven consecutive years as #2 or #3. Boys' names are as boring as ever -- the big news there is that Ethan has supplanted Joshua as #3, and Matthew plummeted (in top ten boys' name terms, anyway) from #5 to #9. Yaaawn.

But there are two big name ascension stories for 2007, one on each side of the aisle: Addison and Jayden. Jayden is this year's #18 name, up from #49 in 2006 and #54 in 2005. Over 15,000 boys were named Jayden last year, versus 9550 the year before. As for Addison, Shonda's red-haired wonder hit #11 in 2007, from =#28 in 2006 and #106 in 2005 -- meaning that the 11,823 little Addisons last year represent nearly a quadrupling of the 3014 girls given the name in 2005. (This increase far outweighs the decline in Madisons over that two year period, incidentally.)

We also have a bunch of newcomer names to the top #1000 list. Most prominently, although unsurprisingly, Miley is this year's #278 name, up from nowheresville ever before.

I haven't fully parsed the list yet, and I'm sure there are no shortage of interesting tidbits to be unearthed. Feel free to share as you notice them.
BRILLIANT (?) BUT....: With upfronts for every non-NBC network this coming week, we'll be getting dribs and drabs of pickup and scheduling news all through the week, but the fates of three "bubble shows" have been revealed. Cancelled? Somewhat surprisingly, the execrable Back To You will not return to Fox's schedule (though Brad Garrett vehicle 'Til Death will return for a third season). In sadder news, the CW will cancel Aliens in America, which proved both surprisingly funny and surprisingly tender (with a very funny Rent parody at one point) as a casualty of its selling off its Sunday programming block, but is now saying that the (much-improved in recent weeks) Reaper is 80% for renewal. No word yet on any other "bubble" programming, with those of most interest to ALOTT5MA viewers likely being HIMYM (while a pickup has widely been reported to be a foregone conclusion, no formal announcement has been made), Boston Legal (which they may just fire everyone save Spader and Shatner from again, since they seem to be interchangeable), and Eli Stone.

Also done? New Amsterdam. Looking like they're back? Eli Stone and (most surprisingly) Miss Guided. Picked up to series? New J.J. Abrams/Joshua Jackson series Fringe.

Update Once More: Boston Legal back, but apparently with a regular cast of just Spader/Shatner/Bergen (if this ends the interminable Clarence plotline, I'm all for it), and Joss Whedon/Eliza Dushku project Dollhouse picked up for midseason.

Yet Again: Eli Stone officially picked up for short season of 13 new episodes.

Friday, May 9, 2008

DR. SPACEMAN, WHEN THEY CHECK MY DNA, WILL THEY TELL ME WHAT DISEASES I MIGHT GET, OR HELP ME REMEMBER MY ATM PIN CODE? When withdrawing cash from an ATM, why are you asked to input the number of cents? These machines don't dispense coins, after all. For that matter, why do you have to type in the units digit for the number of dollars? Machines don't dispense ones or fives, so why not just give us a template like "$ --0.00" and spare us those extra three keystrokes?

For that matter, as a friend once suggested to me, shouldn't the machine already know the language in which you'd prefer to transact business? Presumably, if English were not your preferred language you'd be receiving your bank statements in some other tongue; moreover, after years of transactions in which you've selected English every time, what are the chances you'd be changing your mind now? [Side question: do you ever select an alternate language just for the challenge?]

Walk left
Stand right

Leading edge of roll on outside

Blades down (unloader safety)
Tines, heads down (unloader questionable hygiene)
Pre-rinse sticky substances
Hand-wash good knives (oxidation)
Hand-wash mixing bowls (space)

Top-sheet seams down

Larger denominations to smaller denominations from inside of billfold to outside, facing inside

General non-fiction, professional specialty nonfiction, reference, memorabilia, authors known personally, general fiction

Smart quotes on

Down (cheeks)
Down (upper lip)
Down, then up (chin)

Popular music, compilations, soundtracks, children's music, jazz, classical, music in foreign language understood only by spouse

Plane, chop, rip, drill mortises, mill tenons, glue, pin, sand, stain, wax

Squat, approach box, rest bat against leg, adjust glove, extend right arm with bat vertical, adjust sleeve from shoulder, bail out

Rip, mix, burn
PERHAPS I SHOULDN'T HAVE DONE THAT RAIN DANCE LAST NIGHT: Why is it that the day you're going to have folks over to grill burgers at your place winds up being the one day of the week that it pours rain and even briefly hails?
GERONIMO JACKSON: Do you know what you need, Mr. Locke? An all-plot, no-romance, almost-no-Jack episode. Guys? Cabin.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

A DICHOTOMY: There are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe that government subsidization of the mortgage-bond market will aid financially-strapped homeowners and stimulate the economy; and those who don't understand the proper way to load a dishwasher.
I AM A JELLY DONUT: In a little more than a week, I'll be journeying to Berlin for the better part of a week on business, though with a fair amount of time to see the city. Anything ThingThrowers wish to suggest that I see or do while there is much appreciated.
UNLIKE CANDY IN "WALK ON THE WILD SIDE": Cincinnati Reds old-timey mascot Mr. Redlegs probably should have worn a seatbelt today.

If you're into handlebar mustache-themed videos, an all-sockpuppet production of "There Will Be Blood" is now online.

e.t.a.: Just so we're clear: the links in this article are completely safe for work. Mr. Redlegs engaged in no behavior covered by the Referral to the United States House of Representatives pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, § 595(c) Submitted by the Office of the Independent Counsel on September 9, 1998. Just play the video, folks.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

SONG ABOUT A SUNBEAM, SONG ABOUT A GIRL: There was a time -- some three months before tonight's results show, perhaps -- but was indeed a time when Robbie Carrico, Alexandréa Lushington and Colton Berry still walked the earth, and when we didn't feel so frequently let down by this year's competitors. Let's go back to that time, shall we? Here's David Cook, "Hello"; Young David Archuleta, "Waiting for the World to Change"; Clifford the Crunchy Muppet, "Hallelujah"; and Syesha Mercado, "Think".

Two separate questions for tonight: (1) Would you rather have the final three we now have, or, say, Michael Johns, Carly Smithson and Chikezie Eze? Construct a narrative by which you preferred final three got to this point; and (2) Compared to other final threes we've had, this one's more talented as a whole than Fantasia/DeGarmo/Jasmine and Kelly/Justin/Nikki, I'd argue, but ... any others?
WRITTEN, PRODUCED, AND DIRECTED BY MAX BIALYSTOCK: Apparently, much panned musical Glory Days has already shut its doors, having opened just last night, making it join an elite club alongside Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Yes, that's worse than Prymate (the play about humans and animals getting it on) and Carrie: The Musical, which both played 5 performances. The only thing to beat it? Farrah Fawcett comedy Bobbi Boland, which closed after 7 previews without ever officially opening.
I'M JUST A NORMAL PERSON. I PUT MY PANTS ON TWO LEGS AT A TIME WHILE JUMPING FROM A SECOND-STORY BALCONY: More YouTube silliness. Because clothes, and the risk of severe bodily injury or death in donning them, make the man.
A GLASS-HALF-FULL KIND OF GUY: Now, I'm not a lawyer, but -- wait, yes, yes I am a lawyer -- so I speak with unquestionable expertise when I say that the next time I'm defending a guy accused of imprisoning and raping his daughter for 24 years and also imprisoning the seven (grand)children he fathered in the same secret underground dungeon, this will not be a huge part of my defense:
Fritzl, 73, claimed credit for having saved the life of his daughter and added: "I could have killed them all. Then there would have been no trace. No-one would have found me out."
Call me a legal maverick, but I don't think I want to play the "it could have been worse" card in the one case where, in fact, it couldn't. I mean, even that German cannibal's defense now is "it could be worse -- look at that messed-up Austrian dude."
BECAUSE, YES, PRETTY GIRLS ARE FUNGIBLE: So, plans are apparently afoot for a House spinoff. Sadly, not Wilson and Amber Move To The Big City or Lisa Cuddy: Rural M.D. or even Someplace Else Finally Hires Foreman, but instead one based on a private eye character to be introduced next season. Given that Shark and Canterbury's Law's attempts to be "House With Lawyers" haven't been resounding successes, I'm not convinced this is a workable idea.
YOU'RE ALL WASTED: I'm sorry for posting over the top, and please don't use this as a general Idol thread, but we're midway through tonight's show and I feel very, very strongly about this. The moment in "Baba O'Riley" where the overlapping round on the keyboard resolves into those three power chords and the drums kick in and then Daltrey sings "Out here in the fields/I fight for my meals/I get my back into my living"? That is probably one of the two or three most powerful moments in rock and roll, and I can't think of the other one or two. It's downright criminal to bury that the way Cook did. I don't care if he's the rocker, or he's trying to change it up -- you can't whisper about how you fight for your meals. I am outraged.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

HEAVY BOOTS OF LEAD, FILLS HIS VICTIMS FULL OF DREAD: I finally got around to Iron Man this evening, and man, that's some good stuff. Pretty much perfectly cast all-around (especially, and unsurprisingly, RDJ as Tony Stark), and with a ton of quips and good lines. One of the most difficult things in making a comic book movie is balancing making a movie "for the fans" with one that the rest of the audience will enjoy. This one hit it just about right, with enough in-jokes for the fans ("Maybe next time," the Stan Lee cameo, the group to which the government agent played by Sorkin Family Player Clark Gregg belongs), without becoming nothing but fanwankery. And man, that final post-credits scene, which raises some casting questions of interest for later films (Thor? Captain America? Ant-Man?).
9 IP 1 H 0 R 0 ER 0 BB 20 K: Ten years ago today, Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood had perhaps the most dominating nine-inning performance in baseball history. SportsCenter's Rich Eisen narrated the highlights narrated the highlights (new link).
IN THE JINGLE JANGLE MORNING I'LL COME FOLLOWING YOU: Ma nishtana ha'Idol hazeh? On most other shows Ike Turner is not alluded to even once; tonight, he's alluded to twice. Oh, and Jason Castro's going home. I mean, really ...
  • David Cook: "Hungry Like The Wolf" was sung competently, but you've got to stalk the stage when you perform a Simon LeBon song. You've got to run through the crowd, taunt and tease ... you can't just wander in a five-foot radius. "Baba O'Reily" was awesome ... until five seconds before the ending and he shouted they're all WASTED!, which was great, and then he abruptly pivoted to a total Vegas/Idol glory note ending and killed the moment.

  • Syesha Mercado: If you're doing to climb Mt. Whitney, Mt. Mariah and Mt. Fantasia, hell, why not try to scale Tina Turner's "Proud Mary"? Because you're not Tina Turner. She's performing with a ton of confidence, but a performer can't just follow Tina's steps and make it your her own recipe ... unless she's Beyonce. And, hello?, Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" is not a personal empowerment anthem, nor is it a place for random shrieks and belting devoid of any interpretive intent, which means that Syesha should be going home, except, of course ...

  • Clifford the Crunchy Muppet: "I Shot The Sheriff" was a huge sloppy mess, a calamity down there with the Scott Savols and Corey Clarks of the world. It's not a singer's song, he started badly, and then committed the Anwar Robinson sin of letting the backup singers take the chorus. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was even worse, forgetting lyrics and just not caring anymore. He's the one who should have attempted "A Change Is Gonna Come," doing it like James Taylor did on The West Wing.

    Dan Fienberg wants to know if this is the worst pair of final four performances ever, and the answer is "not quite": Josh Gracin once tortured us with the Bee Gees' "Jive Talkin'" and "To Love Somebody", after all.

  • Young David Archuleta: "Stand By Me" was technically solid and all, and then, whoa: he may have just won the competition with the falsetto at the end, no matter how dead his eyes may remain. The falsetto wasn't quite as there on "Love Me Tender," but again it was undeniably a good performance, and if you didn't already hate him tonight's performances would not have made you dread his winning the competition.
Any doubts, America?
THERE'D BETTER BE MORE THAN A FREE ALLEN WRENCH: The allure of camping out waiting for a store to open so you can be the first to buy a product generally eludes me. (Though midnight launches can have their allure--Harry Potter, movies on opening night, etc.) Eluding me even more is who exactly would camp out in front of the soon-to-open Brooklyn IKEA in order to be the first to experience the smell of lingonberry jelly and the joy of inexpensive, not particularly durable, furniture.
YES FISH EATERS, THE DAYS OF TROUBLESOME SCALING, CUTTING AND GUTTING ARE OVER: Nerve counts down the top 50 ad parodies of all time, which is predictably heavy on SNL clips. I was ready to dismiss the list until three of my all-time favorites--Samuel L. Jackson Beer, First CityWide Change Bank, and Old Glory Robot Insurance--showed up in the top 10. Still, the folks behind Shimer Floor Wax/Desert Topping and Taco Town have to be disappointed to be excluded.

And yes, 32 years later, putting a bass in a blender is still damn funny.
I SUGGEST "EXPLAINING THE SAME THING FOR THE FOURTH TIME TODAY WITHOUT GETTING SNIPPY:" I am quite sure we can add to McSweeney's list of "Classes My Top-Tier Law School Should Have Offered As Warnings About The Profession."
GLOAMING IS A GOOD WORD TOO: Via our frequent commenter Bill, here's an interesting piece by blogger Brendan Wolfe, whose blog is called "The Beiderbecke Affair" after the famous jazz musician (or perhaps an obscure television show?). It's a list of the songs he chose for the occasion of proposing to his beloved Molly (who said yes).

Wolfe has a gift for writing. I especially liked this passage about Thelonious Monk's lovely ballad “Crepuscule with Nellie”:
"I love his decision to use the otherwise obscure word crepuscule. It may mean “twilight,” but its consonants are too jagged and sharp for anything that’s, you know, just pretty. Baudelaire dug this sort of ambiguity, too, and he began his poem “Le Crépuscule du soir” with a reference to the “charming, friendly evening of the criminal” (or “Voici le soir charmant, ami du criminel”)."
Wolfe's list is not especially similar to the sort of songs I would choose in connection with a proposal, but I generally like what he has to say about them. I don't like "Bette Davis Eyes" as much as he does and I can't imagine anyone preferring the version of "You Were on my Mind" by Jay and the Americans over the nearly perfect original by Ian and Sylvia.

This may come as a shock to you, but I did not make a mix tape when I asked my wife to marry me (let's just say that I was WAY too spontaneous to think that far ahead). But I did send her a card with some flowers a few days after she said yes and included these lyrics by Jackson Browne in the card:
"Give up your heart and you lose your way
Trusting another to feel that way
Give up your heart and you find yourself
Living for something in somebody else"
NOW WHEN I WAS A YOUNG BOY AT THE AGE OF FIVE, MY MOTHER SAID I WAS GONNA BE THE GREATEST MAN ALIVE: Tuesday night, Your American Idols will be singing selections from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll" list. It is a classic week for "go ahead, define yourself as an artist" selections. Here's some suggestions for what I'd like to hear:
  • David Cook: Big Bopper, "Chantilly Lace"; Rolling Stones, "Miss You"; any of the Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters songs listed, but especially "Mannish Boy".
  • Syesha Mercado: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, "Tracks of My Tears"; Big Brother and the Holding Company, "Piece of My Heart"; ? and the Mysterians, "96 Tears"; the Replacements, "I Will Dare"; Little Richard, "Long Tall Sally".
  • Young David Archuleta: Would love to hear Metallica, "Enter Sandman"; Johnny Cash, "Folsom Prison Blues" or the Ramones, "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker"; the Kinks, "Lola"; the Wailers, "I Shot The Sheriff" (seriously, the list of inappropriate songs for YDA is endless); we will see him close his dead, dead eyes and sing Paul McCartney, "Maybe I'm Amazed"; Simon and Garfunkel "Bridge Over Troubled Water"; Marvin Gaye, "What's Going On" or the Penguins, "Earth Angel".
  • Clifford the Crunchy Muppet: The Beach Boys, "God Only Knows"; Madonna, "Like A Virgin" (ala the John Wesley Harding cover of "Like A Prayer"); Del Shannon, "Runaway"; Prince, "Little Red Corvette"; Toots & the Maytals, "Pressure Drop"; Joy Division, "Love Will Tear Us Apart"; Woody Guthrie, "This Land Is Your Land".
So: what should they sing, and what will they sing?

e.t.a. Sepinwall on this disappointing season: " The contestants look unhappy, the songs and song choices are poor, and things have gotten so dull that Paula Abdul's meltdowns - last week, she either was reading her notes from dress rehearsal or developed the ability to predict the future - are among the season's few highlights."
DROPPING THE GAY BOMB: Big thumbs up for Gossip Girl, which managed to balance the au courant (Vanessa Anne Hudgens and Elliot Spitzer jokes) with the meta (the whole bit with Eric being rumored to be Gossip Girl as a response to the internet notations) and rewarding forward momentum in the major plotlines both adult and teenage. Though anyone could have figured out the "big secret," even though the particular contours of the secret remain to be revealed.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I CARRIED A WATERMELON ALL THE WAY TO KOL NIDRE SERVICES: On Friday night, the family of Showtime channels (mine free for three months with my new cable installation!) offered a true abundance of riches as my own personal introduction to Showtime subscriberhood.

To wit: first, I got to watch my favorite movie from 4th grade -- The Jazz Singer. Complete with Laurence Olivier doing the Brooklyn cantor thing, Neil Diamond's hair and sparkly shirts doing whatever the hell they were doing back in 1980, and "America" being sung the non-dead, dead eyes way. Right from there, we shifted into Dirty Dancing, my favorite movie from the summer I turned 16. (Oh, how I loved this movie -- and still do, shhhhhh -- but I am quite sure that I've bored you all on this topic more than once.) From Jazz Singer to Dirty Dancing -- it was as though someone had programmed the Kim's Childhood Channel -- all that was missing was Grease 2 plopped in right between Jess Robbins and Frances Houseman. (Poor, poor Mr. Cosmo.)

What would the Showtime Your Youth Channel be airing this week?
IF LOVING YOU IS WRONG, I DON'T WANNA BE RIGHT: Mildred Loving, plaintiff in the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia, passed away yesterday. Loving (nee Jeter), a black woman, didn't know it was illegal when she married a white man, and her description of what she did -- "we loved each other and got married" -- was decidedly unheroic. Yet it was Loving who wrote to Bobby Kennedy that Virginia's anti-miscegenation law was wrong, and it was Loving's too-right-to-be-true name that topped the case that said, once and for all, that a marriage applicant's race is none of the state's business. Mildred's husband, Richard, died in 1975, but at least Mildred lived long enough to see the notion of opposition to interracial marriage disappear from both the law and all but the most stubborn corners of modern culture.

Hat tip: Russ.
SAVE THE MANATEES: Two tidbits of TV news from The Hollywood Reporter that are of interest:
  • A survey of the shows "On The Bubble," bringing the welcome news that pickups for Reaper and Boston Legal are "likely," and a fourth season of HIMYM is "considered a given." (Still in danger? Eli Stone, and I think the world needs more SpyDaddy singing.)
  • On a less exhilarating note--The highest paid showrunner in Hollywood? No, not David E. Kelley, the increasingly ubiquitous Greg Berlanti, or one of the folks from CSI, but rather Family Guy/American Dad overlord Seth MacFarlane--$100 million to lock up all the "remember that time when...." jokes you could ever want or need until 2012.
THE POWERS THAT BE THAT FORCE US TO LIVE LIKE WE DO: This weekend, the NYT sent a flotilla of reporters (though they didn't ask NBA players) to go out and review Red Lobster, the Cheesecake Factory and other casual dining chains in the region, and other than TGI Friday's they're mostly favorable. ("Naturally, we had the Bloomin’ Onion ($6.99), the chain’s signature appetizer. A softball-size onion is sliced into fingers, opening it up like a flower. This is dipped in a thick, spicy batter, deep-fried and served with a chili-rich rémoulade. No way around it, the thing was tasty. Oily, delicious and no doubt quite bad for you, but good.")