Saturday, April 4, 2009
[First off, this disclaimer: I didn't audition -- the Wife did, so that's her story to tell. I know that her "Natural Woman" advanced her past the first screener to the "producer," which led to her walking out of that room with the traditional Idol reaction of glum, glum, then jumping-up-and-down-oh-my-God-I-did-it!; and can confirm her subsequent Facebook status update in which Jen stated she "finally understands the importance of song choice. 'Life is a Highway' did me no favors," which apparently led to the producer saying, "I'm sorry, it's a 'no'."]
The purpose of the auditions is to locate 6-7 groups of three performers each to perform in hourly shows before ~1000 people in a stunningly realistic approximation of the Idoldome:
The singers have a list of about 100 songs from which to choose, each with prerecorded backing tracks and edited down to ninety seconds, the same length as real-Idol performances. The winner of each show during the day -- based on audience voting on panels in the seat armrests -- moves on to the final show at 7pm each night. The winner of that show every day gets a "Dream Ticket" to bypass the lines at any real Idol audition in the future and proceed directly to the initial judges' screening. [Details at the FAQ. (PDF)]
The production values of the show are top-notch and authentic enough -- a lame warmup comedian, video packages and words of encouragement from formal Idol winners (plus a Jordin Sparks-led audience singalong video of "I've Got The Music In Me"), taped interviews with the contestants before each performs, live video of the performances on the monitors (and a clipped-together montage at the end before the audience vote), cutaways to the performers' friends in attendance, the Carbonated Beverage Hot Seat, an affable host and, yes, three judges:
If you're looking left-to-right, that is indeed Amiable Hefty Black Man Who Wears A Large Watch, Daffy Woman Who Praises Every Performer For Being Beautiful Before Evaluating The Singing, and Crabby Australian. Verisimilitude!
What's fascinating about all this is that in the land of when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, which promotes "Where Dreams Come True" as the slogan at the entrance, in this land that aims to fulfill all your hopes they've now embedded rejection as an experience for its guests -- rejection in private by the "producers," or rejection in public by the audience, and hundreds of people, every day, are signing up for it. They want the opportunity to succeed -- and are willing to be judged along the way -- and we all want to watch them, just like we do at home. It's a must-see attraction. [Just as long as you FastPass the Toy Story Midway Mania! first.]
[Another take is here.]
Friday, April 3, 2009
Exhibition Review - 'Galileo, the Medici and the Age of Astronomy' - At the Franklin Institute, the Renaissance Cosmos Surveyed - NYTimes.com
In related news, the WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies air Saturday night at 10pm on the USA Network. The Texas-centric class of honorees features Steve Austin, Terry & Dory Funk Jr., the tragic Von Erich clan, Ricky Steamboat, longtime ring announcer Howard Finkel and, yes, Koko B. Ware.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
No, I still don't buy the big surprise of the episode; it didn't fit with the character as we knew her, nor did she explain her actions in any way, and some of the meta stuff (any "it's time to let go" scene) was too heavy-handed, even for a season finale. Still, the show ended as it began -- a hospital organizing chaos as best it can, and as finales go, not a bad one at all.
However, for sheer ludicrousness, I think it's going to be tough to beat Life On Mars, which I gave up on after the pilot, but Wiki has the spoiler for how it all ended and why exactly Det. Sam Tyler was in 1973 (different from the British show), which at least explains why "Major Tom" was played so often.
ETA--updated to reflect a version of Wiki that does contain the spoiler info.
See you tonight when it's over -- no NBC comedies tonight, just a one-hour clip show and the two-hour finale.
Indeed, as its stars kept departing the show and replacements took their slots, it became more and more apparent that the real star of "ER" was the ER itself and that the room had been transfigured from a literal emergency room into a metaphor of crisis where every triumph is temporary because it is inevitably followed by another disaster -- actually dozens of disasters. It also became apparent that those who stayed in the ER and kept facing the carnage there were condemned. ...
The character who may have most embodied the damage inflicted by the ER is Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle), who early on was the audience's primary point of identification and whose tenure on the program neatly traces the thematic trajectory of "ER" from its early nobility to its later futility. When the show began, Carter was a wealthy, fresh-faced intern, an idealist who cared so much about each and every patient that he could barely cope with tragedy. As seasons passed, Carter not only honed his medical skills, eventually becoming a great technical doctor, but he also learned how necessary it was to inure himself to much of what he sees. He is a great doctor because he feels. But he can function as a doctor only when he ceases to feel so much.... To regain his idealism and recalibrate his feelings, he leaves the hospital to work in sub-Saharan Africa and even falls in love and gets married, but there is a sense that he has been so brutalized by the ER that he will never be what he once was. Unlike so many other denizens of the ER, he cannot move on.
The second name on my list? Bill Cosby, who has now been announced as the 2009 honoree. The ceremony will be held in October, to be televised later on PBS.
And speaking of that last minute, my favorite part of The Last Waltz -- I know I've said this here before -- is the part, after the world's biggest rock stars, many at their creative and performing peaks, put on the show of their lives, when Dylan walks out and totally, completely, indisputably, owns everybody. There's a moment during "I Shall Be Released," where somebody flubs something or is off-key or maybe just distracts Dylan, and he shoots a look out of the corner of his eye, and you can sense everybody snapping to, because, man, it's Dylan (which meant something completely different in 1978 than it does now). So that was exactly what happened at the end of Lost -- someone showing up at the tail end of a well-acted episode, just to say, "hey, don't forget who's in charge here."
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Choire Sicha has more on Zamora's legacy.
The novel, or, really, novella (which is a written, fictional, prose narrative that is longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel), depicts events in the lives of Will Heller, a paranoid schizophrenic who escapes from an institution because he believes that he must lose his virginity to save the world from global warming, and Yda Heller, Will's mother (aided by a detective named for the cousin of the Islamic prophet Muhammad), who hopes to prevent Will from hurting himself or others. I know an unusual amount about neurological disorders. Thus, I can say that John Wray, the novella's author, takes schizophrenia seriously and provides a well-researched and well-drawn portrait of it. It is a testament to the talented Wray and his translator that we, the readers, root for Will's triumph even as we recoil from its likely consequences. Wray also employs Will's schizophrenia to create a variant of the unreliable narrator device. In this case, Wray writes from Will's distorted perspective even though he does not purport to use Will's voice. Or, perhaps, given Will's disorder, the narrator of Will's portions of the novella actually is a dissociative identity of Will's! (This is not made explicit.)
I commend this book to those of you whose time is not frittered away passively before the television set and who enjoy books that are at least modestly challenging.
[Speaking of The Suck, the San Jose Mercury News has printed the finale spoiler I mentioned on Facebook/Twitter last week. Do not click on this link if you want to experience this last Shocking Twist unspoiled, and do not discuss its contents in the Comments.]
Related: show praise from Sepinwall, Ellen Gray; Andy the Saint with 10 Memorable Episodes (though, seriously, Benton goes to Mississippi?)
[Previously, on our ER retrospective: the early years, noteworthy guest stars, romance in the ER, the Very Special Travels of ER, memorable character exits, what worked.]
When Jews have appeared explicitly as Jews onscreen (big and small), they fit an over-determined mold. There’s a long history of viewing Jewish men as weak and feminine. There was even a belief at one time that Jewish men menstruated. This stereotype is still alive in Hollywood. Think Woody Allen: meek, timid, un-masculine, neurotic, intellectual. When I was growing up, "L.A. Law" was prominent. It might be hard to remember today, but for several years it was the biggest show on television. Unlike the other attorneys on the show –- who were womanizers, who did criminal law, who were masculine, who were played by Jimmy Smits and Corbin Bernsen -- the Stuart Markowitz character was a tax attorney who never had to appear in court. I don’t just remember his character - I also remember him a good foot and a half shorter than his wife. One of the few episodes I remember made fun of the idea of him having sex: after a heart attack, his doctor told him not to just avoid positions that would be too strenuous....Related: our Top Jewish Movie Characters discussion.
Like gays in Hollywood, Jews made films that could be read from a Jewish perspective by those in the know, but which passed by most of America without comment. Forgetting Sarah Marshall offers an excellent, recent example. For many viewers, the names Rachel and Sarah (with an h) aren’t notable, but to me, these are very much Jewish names. I doubt many viewers ever noticed the last names of these characters -- Jansen and Marshall. Those are very un-Jewish. Being aware of who made the film and of certain themes that are important to Jews in art, clues like the names of characters gave me a way of reading the film that probably never occurred to most viewers. Rachel, played by the Jewish actress Mila Kunis, has dark hair and skin. Sarah is blond and fair-skinned. So there is some ambiguity to both, but Rachel is ‘more Jewish’ than Sarah. Aldous Snow -- marked as strongly white by his name and his English accent -- is successful in many ways, despite being an idiot, because he is white. On the other hand, Peter’s problems relate to being Jewish. The Mormon newlyweds emphasize the relationship between religious background, social inclusion, and sexuality. The film becomes a commentary on the more common theme, found in Woody Allen movies and Philip Roth novels as well as There’s Something About Mary, where the Jewish male assimilates by embracing gentile women. Here, success is found in embracing Jewishness. This is often lost on audiences who miss the double address -- the quiet nod to Jewish viewers of a mainstream movie.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
So if you're Lil Rounds, and you've been getting your teeth kicked in by "Independence Day" on country week and the inexplicable total misfire of "Heat Wave" on Motown week, you should not have any trouble figuring out what to sing on Sing Whatever the Fuck You Want Week. You should remember that the last time we all really thought you were awesome was when you knocked the socks off of a Mary J. Blige song, and you should go find yourself a song that will make us remember how amazing you can be when you do your R&B thing. You know what you're not supposed to do under these circumstances? Go put on a powder blue evening gown and find one of those Celine Dion songs that every doomed female contestant on this show feels a need to sing. I mean, come on. This is not rocket science, people.
Ok, so looking at the show as a whole, to me it breaks down into two sections. First, the mostly boring opening act. And second, the Adam Lambert/Kris Allen show.
Most of the first seven perfomances were painful for some reason or another. Megan was a total ten-car pile-up. You all know I adore her, and there are at least a hundred songs I would love to hear her sing. But this was like number six hundred million billion and ten, and she did nothing with it.
And then there was Scott. First of all, who decided he should have tall hair? I'm all for giving the guy a makeover, but let's set the clippers a little shorter, ok? But setting aside the hair -- which I will forgive because it's not like he could look in the mirror and say "um, guys? I look like a garden hedge" -- "Just the Way You Are"? Seriously?? I'm a big defender of Billy Joel, but nothing says "I can offer no pretense that I am an artist to be taken seriously this century" like singing "Just the Way You Are" on American Idol.
Even the non-sucky people didn't do anything to help themselves.
Anoop? Stop sneering. You are a nice Indian kid from North Carolina with a nice voice. You are not Noop from da Hood. STOP SNEERING. He's got problems -- not this week necessarily, but when he tries to be what he wants to be, he comes off like a kid performing at his high school talent show. Awww, look at the cute Indian kid doing his gangsta riff!
Did someone teach Allison Iraheta how to play the guitar this week? Because compared to some people on the show who are actually musicians and play instruments, she looked kind of like me playing the French horn at my fifth grade band concert. And Randy had trouble articulating his problem with her get-up, but Kara nailed it: Allison has the rocker voice. She's the real deal. She doesn't need to get all dressed up to prove it to us. I kind of want to send her to ANTM for a while, so they can put her in a black tank top and jeans and pull her hair (oh, the hair was painful) back into a ponytail. Let the voice stand alone.
Poor Matt. I still don't care for him, but whatever insecurities from last week made him think it would be a good idea to plunk a keyboard into the middle of the audience and writhe all over it just didn't do him any favors. (The word "indulgent" gets thrown around a lot on this show, but it's warranted here.) I didn't hate the song, actually -- liked it better than a lot of his performances that the judges have gushed about -- but it wasn't anything particularly memorable.
And I don't have a lot to say about Danny. The song was fine, the performance was fine. The problem I have with Danny is that while I truly love -- not just like -- the tone and timbre of his gorgeous voice, he hasn't had a single performance yet that has knocked my socks off. And I don't even know what direction to suggest he move in to come up with such a performance. Actually, I think I just came up with one. Anyone remember Robert Downey Jr. (the real one) singing Joni Mitchell's "The River" on Ally McBeal (better audio here)? I want to hear Danny sing that.
But then Lil came and went and the pregame shenanigans ended, and the real show started.I've been saying since the beginning that people weren't giving Kris enough credit. And while I don't think he's the #1 or even the #2 guy on the show this season, he's doing a whole lot better than a whole lot of guys who had a whole lot more airtime early on. I liked him with the piano, I liked what he did with the song, and I liked the fact that he correctly interpreted this week's theme as "pick something that we're going to remember that you sang."
Speaking of remembering what people sang? Yeah, it's time: Adam Lambert. If I were making a list of the top five songs I never expected to hear on AI, "Play That Funky Music" would surely have made the list. I mean, what the hell was the guy thinking? But I loved every moment of that performance, from the jivin' disco knees to the customary crazy high notes to those dips into the low range that I love and that I think he doesn't use often enough. (Incidentally, I think he doesn't use the low range all that often because it's got to be really hard to find a song written for someone with a range like his -- most people who can do the low stuff can't make it anywhere near his high end.) As with so many of his performances, there is no one else on any season of AI who can do what he does.
So, yeah. Can we have a theme again next week? Please?
edited to add:
Joanna Weiss and I see green in exactly the same way.
Dan Fienberg is in the same general Crayola box as well.
Whitney Pastorek's On the Scene dispatches are back on Popwatch and are as hilarious as ever.
As for the forced resignation, I dissent. I love the idea of calling a youth team "Green Death," and I approve of the letter in principle (though I hope I would have written something funnier). Who, really, was protesting this?
(By the way, I laughed like crazy at last night's "Murtaugh" episode, getting to the tears-down-the-cheeks point by Teen Wolf's second or third dunk.)
A. Like The Wire, ultimately the System always won. Sure, they could save individual patients every once in a while, but poor people kept getting screwed by the system, perhaps-well-meaning administrators thwarted doctors efforts and lots of people died despite the doctors' best efforts -- and on that, perhaps the link is to Hill Street Blues before it in that slot, which certainly also was fine with unhappy endings. Mark Greene had a grim and unpleasant life, and he died married to someone who didn't make him that happy anyway and with a daughter who despised him. Thank goodness that never really improved. If you want to mark the dividing line between Great ER and Not-So-Great ER, it's when Weaver and Romano became the doctors' enemies as opposed to just part of the system.
B. They moved so fast that they didn't care that you didn't completely understand what was going on with all the terminology. You figured it out just fine. It was an action show that happened to be set in a hospital, where you learned about the characters by what they did as much as through the dialogue itself -- and the patients weren't necessarily anvils for what was going on in the characters' lives.
C. Doug Ross, classic Loveable Rogue Hero.
D. They're re-airing season one on TNT now. Start TiVoing it. (LLL: next Tuesday.) Look at how completely young and immature John Truman Carter was then. It'll help you realize his slow growth over time.
E. Carter-Benton. TV's best bromance, and one that they really held off on satisfying for a long, long time (until Carter's trip to rehab).
F. Strong, complex female characters -- Hathaway, Boulet, Corday, Lockhart.
G. Peter Benton as Shaft. Peter Benton as lover. Peter Benton as dad. Peter Benton as doctor. Peter Benton as everything other than that Mississippi episode, which I'd rather forget. One of my top 2-3 favorite tv characters of the past twenty years.
[Previously, on our ER retrospective: the early years, noteworthy guest stars, romance in the ER, the Very Special Travels of ER, memorable character exits.]
Also, the demonstration had the wrong ending. Where was Anakin to execute an Order 66?
Monday, March 30, 2009
Consider this an open comment opportunity on the band. Perhaps my favorite of their songs is this one.
The most perfect woman ever described in any form of art?
She wanted no applause,
Just another course
Made a meal out of me and came back for more
Had to cool me down
To take another round
Now I'm back in the ring to take another swing
As allmusic.com observes:
What made "You Shook Me" so significant and unforgettable was that it was equal parts naughty and proud, pop-tinged yet stomp-worthy -- which is exactly what AC/DC exemplified when at their best.
I learned in the same article that Veruca Salt titled its debut album "American Thighs" (from the song's lyric "And knocking me out with those American thighs").