Saturday, April 4, 2009

THOUGHTS FROM A WALT DISNEY WORLD SOJOURN, PART II: I cannot say enough good things about the new American Idol Experience attraction at WDW Hollywood Studios.

[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 -

KING OF NIGHT VISION, KING OF INSIGHT: The NYT reviews the new Galileo exhibition, featuring one of two surviving telescopes he used some four hundred years ago, making "The Franklin" a science museum once more in Philadelphia.
MCXIIITHY! Grey's Anatomy star Kevin McKidd wants a McNickname already.

YouTube - Op zoek naar Maria - Dans in het Centraal Station van Antwerpen

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND: If this doesn't make you grin, I don't want to know you.
BUY ME SOME PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACKS: With tonight scheduled for the first official Major League games at the two new baseball stadia in New York (though weather is putting that in question right now), the Times has a comprehensive package, reviewing the architecture, history, and controversy of the parks. However, what I want to talk about is the lengthy article on the new (and allegedly improved) food at the ballparks, which include Blue Smoke barbecue and Shake Shack burgers (at CitiField), and pressed Cuban sandwiches and premium steak sandwiches (at Yankee Stadium). What do you eat at the ballpark?
STONE COLD 3:16 MEANS I JUST QUASHED YOUR SUBPOENA: Are you the best lawyer there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be? The WWE is seeking new in-house counsel. (They're also hiring a new play-by-play announcer.) Unclear if drug testing is required.

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.
THE RABBI AND THE PRIEST WILL ALWAYS BUY THE KARAOKE MACHINE: Lost's Ken Leung (Miles Straume), the early years. (From Keeping the Faith.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

DR. GREENE, YOU COMING? I actually don't have a lot to say about the ER finale, oddly. I liked the little touches -- Carter teaching a medical student the exact same procedure Benton taught him in the pilot for inserting an IV line; a nap interrupted; Reese Benton coming back portrayed by the same young actor who started with the role in 1999; a small nod to the Benton/Corday thing; the touches of dark humor and broken penis jokes; Susan Lewis being Susan Lewis; a little basketball. And I imagine if I had watched the show during the last 5+ years, I'd have some understanding of what the Clooney-lite Stamos-Cardellini stuff was all about, or why Angela Bassett's so angry at everyone, or where Jerry's beard and Archie's competence came from.

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.
HE INTRODUCES THE ACTS: CBS is the only major network with a network daytime game show anymore with the deathless The Price Is Right, but apparently, they're discussing reviving Pyramid as a replacement for the now-canned Guiding Light. If they are reviving the Dick Clark classic, who do you want to see host and who should be regular celebrity players? Are there other game shows that need to be revived to fill the slot?

The Associated Press: Obama's iPod gift includes 40 Broadway show tunes

SHE FINALLY HAS SOMETHING TO REPLACE THE AWESOME MIX TAPE REAGAN MADE HER: The AP's got the list of what showtunes were on the iPod Barack Obama presented Queen Elizabeth with yesterday and while we don't want to get into a discussion of gift-giving protocol here, you have to admit someone on the president's staff did a decent job of putting together a survey of Broadway highpoints from the last 70 years or so. Still, I think the Queen might have gotten a kick out of "The Internet Is for Porn."
W.H. HARRISON FRIED CHICKEN IS UP THE STREET: There's Kennedy and Lincoln Fried Chicken already, as well as a frightening selection of fried chicken joints named after various states. But now, you too can get Obama Fried Chicken.
THAT'S OK--I LIED TOO: Given its subject matter, it's kind of surprising we haven't blogged more about Damages--probably because it gets lost on Wednesdays with Lost and Idol taking priority. I haven't watched last night's season finale yet, but there were quite a few loose ends to be tied up, and while the first season did a fine job of tying off most of the over-complicated loose ends and spinning the show in a different direction for Season 2, I lack some faith this time, with characters randomly hooking up, failed murder attempts, bizarre casting (Darrell Hammond as an emotionless, psychopathic, assassin named "The Deacon?"), and Rose Byrne's desperate need for something to eat.

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, THERE'S TWO KINDS OF DOCTORS. THE KIND THAT GETS RID OF THEIR FEELINGS -- AND THE KIND THAT KEEPS THEM. IF YOU'RE GOING TO KEEP YOUR FEELINGS, YOU'RE GOING TO GET SICK FROM TIME TO TIME. THAT'S JUST HOW IT WORKS: I've said what I can about the end of ER; I'm turning it over to professionals today -- Alan has a best and worst list (with much YouTubage); Alessandra Stanley on how the last season went meta; 15 reasons to remember the show from the readers of the Contra Costa Times; the Hollywood Reporter with a timeline and recap; the Associated Press on how NBC has changed over the past 15 years; from Variety, producer Joe Sachs responds to critics, ER's prop master on filming LLL and its 9-19-94 review of the pilot; and, finally, author Neal Gabler bids farewell to "the darkest, bleakest program on broadcast television and the one with the most sophisticated take on life":

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.

See you tonight when it's over -- no NBC comedies tonight, just a one-hour clip show and the two-hour finale.
ARE THEY PRESENTED BY A PARADE OF DUCKS? Announced yesterday as well were the winners of the prestigious 2008 Peabody Awards, recognizing "excellence and meritorious work by radio and television stations, networks, Webcasters, producing organizations and individuals," and it's a darn worthy list -- This American Life's amazing explanatory piece The Giant Pool of Money; The New York Times Web site for "aggressively and imaginatively adding sound and moving images to the news that's fit to print,[becoming] a leader in the emergence of new journalistic forms," Saturday Night Live for its political satire, Avatar: The Last Airbender for its "unusually complex characters and healthy respect for the consequences of warfare", Lost ("breezily mixing metaphysics, quantum physics, romance and cliffhanger action, [rewriting] the rules of television fiction," the Onion News Network, various documentaries, and then, um ... well, one of those other things on the list is not like the others, and you'll know it when you see it.
DAD IS GREAT, HE GIVES US CHOCOLATE CAKE: Back in May 2007, I complained loudly about Billy Crystal being awarded the Kennedy Center's annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, a sort of lifetime achievement award for comedy, ahead of a long list of more worthy names. The first name on that list was George Carlin, and he became last year's honoree, with the ceremony itself held after his death.

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.
WOULD KIM DICKENS MAKE IT A LOVE PENTAGON? Last week and this week they really dusted off the Lost throwback jerseys, didn't they? 80% treading water at alternating ends of the pool (shallow end: mainland flashback; deep end: island present), 5% Hurley's Comedy Minute (this week: Hurley and Miles read excerpts from last week's Lost message boards); 12% solid character work toward the end of the episode; 3% oh-that's-awesome-it's-over?-damn.

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

AIN'T NO SUNSHINE WHEN SHE'S GONE: [Obligatory Idol results post. That Lady GaGa sure is different. Fienberg recaps.]
... AND START BEING REAL: Tonight at 8pm, MTV premieres Pedro, its biopic of the life and times of Real World: San Francisco star Pedro Zamora. Yes, that's right -- Pedro, Puck, Judd, Pam, Rachel and the gang being played by actors in a biopic. Unfortunately, and despite being written by Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black, it's apparently not good.

Choire Sicha has more on Zamora's legacy.
LOWBOY, HIGH CULTURE: I recently read a book called Lowboy: A Novel. I have read many hundreds of thousands of books in their entirety. This is in the top quartile. It is better than most things one finds these days at lowest-common-denominator chain bookstores, but certainly not in the strata of Barth, Wallace, Pirandello, Foucault, or late Joyce. I initially began reading it in English, but, finding that language and its facile colloquialisms tiresome, I translated it into formalist German and read it in that tongue. I am told that mine was an elegant translation. The staccato and more cultured Deutsch sharpened the characterizations of both Niedrigerjunge (to monoglots, "Lowboy") and Frau (or "Miss") Heller.

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.
LICENSED TO ILL: Just how ill is King: The Illest Men's Magazine Ever? So ill, in fact, that it is now deceased. I guess we will have to settle for other men's magazines, which are, presumably, less ill.
PREVIOUSLY, ON ER: Yes, a lot of it was awesome, but we ought to talk about The Suck as well. So whether it was Dr. Dave Malucci, the Cleo-bot, one disaster too many or the helicopter that returned to claim Dr. Romano much like Captain Hook's crocodile, today's your day to remind us why despite all the praise we've given, most of us stopped watching the show at least five years ago. Or was the show just unsustainable given the amount of cast turnover over time?

[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.]
FARSHTUNKEN SARAH MARSHALL: From a Matt Egan essay on Jews in Hollywood:
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....

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.
Related: our Top Jewish Movie Characters discussion.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I AM A GOLDEN GOD: I've never seen the original Cupid, though enough people I trust have raved about it that I'd pick up a reasonably priced DVD set, and I've seen a few clips. That said, I enjoyed the pilot of the reinvention--nice to play "recognize the NYC landmark!" and Sarah Paulson can seemingly have good chemistry with a brick wall. That said, while Bobby Cannavale is an able comic actor, he seems misplaced here--too "big lug" and not roguish enough to really work. I can immediately see how Piven would have worked, and can't think of the perfect option immediately (Matthew Perry? Tom Cavanaugh?), but this just seems off. I know we have a number of fans of the original--what were your thoughts?
NEXT WEEK ON AMERICAN IDOL -- SONGS THAT I LIKE TO SING WHILE DRIVING MY FORD FOCUS AND DRINKING AN ICE-COLD COCA COLA: I think I'm a little outside the mainstream on this point, but I like AI theme weeks. They force the contestants to channel their energies in a certain direction and find a way to shine under any set of circumstances. (See, e.g., David Cook.) Conversely, I hate pick-whatever-the-heck-you-want weeks, because most people interpret this instruction as "sing a song you like." And that's not, not, not the point of a theme like Top iTunes Downloads, as if a theme like Top iTunes Downloads has a point (but that's besides the point). When you have a broad, wide-open theme like this, all you're supposed to do is make us remember why we wanted you on the show in the first place.

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.
A COMMUNITY APOSTATE IN THE CHURCH OF THE BLOODY SOCK: If you're wondering why Marshall Eriksen was coaching basketball in New York last night, it's because he was forced to resign from coaching soccer in Scituate, Massachusetts. Read, via Deadspin, the tale of Michael Kinahan, a slightly overeager (and obviously not serious) coach. He was very committed to his job as a Molder of Men, the men in this case being a bunch of soccer-playing six- and seven-year-old girls.

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?
HAAAAAVE YOU MET MY DAUGHTER? Baby news! Alyson Hannigan and Alexis Denisof are the proud parents of one-week-old daughter Satyana Denisof. Which means that we are 50% ready to be rid of HIMYM characters wearing empire-waisted blouses standing behind a globe, carrying a tub of orange slices, eating dozens of hot dogs, holding a guitar at midriff level, or just sitting in a booth at MacLaren's.

(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.)
PEOPLE COME IN HERE AND THEY'RE SICK AND DYING AND BLEEDING, AND THEY NEED OUR HELP. HELPING THEM IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HOW WE FEEL: It's time to resume our omnibus recap of all things ER in advance of Thursday's finale, and we ought to figure out in broad brush strokes what the show got right and why so many of us have so much affection for it so many years after many of us stopped watching regularly. Alan and I were emailing about this last week, and here's (an expanded version of) what I said, a list to which you'll no-doubt add:

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.]
POWER OF THE PEOPLE: The Wiki Nation prevails; R.I.P. Microsoft Encarta.
THOUGHTS FROM A WALT DISNEY WORLD SOJOURN, PART I: Was it wrong of me, when visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios, that at the Jedi Training Academy I wanted the Jedi trainer to look like Liam Neeson? (Too soon?)

Also, the demonstration had the wrong ending. Where was Anakin to execute an Order 66?
LIGHT'S OUT? It began as an NBC radio serial in 1937 before moving to tv (and CBS) in 1952, but declining ratings (and interest in the genre generally) seem to portend an end to Guiding Light within the next few months. I suppose it was inevitable that scripted serials couldn't compete -- on cost or in dramatic content -- with what reality tv and talk shows can provide (and do so without requiring viewers to commit daily). Add to that the changing dynamics in terms of who's actually at home during the day (and with time to watch tv), and in that light it's surprising that shows like GL were still on in 2009 in the first place.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Countdown alert: VH1's '100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the '80s' - Pop Candy -

THE SUN DOESN'T SHINE ON VH1: The one-time home of nonstop Hootie and Blowfish videos returns somewhat to its musical roots (or more so the musical roots of its older cousin, MTV) with a five-night countdown of the 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the '80s. You can watch the videos here and here and Pop Candy has the scoop on the top 10, but can't or won't reveal the order. Most of the names you'd expect to find (Nena, Falco, Taco, Soft Cell, AFOS) are there, but there are many groups/artists such as Madness, XTC, and even Twisted Sister that I think are unfairly branded one-hit wonders. Hell, even Falco had two hits, with Amadeus and Der Komissar (both make the list with After the Fire's inferior English version making the list, which means sadly no Falco akwardly running in front of a green screen)
COUSINS! IDENTICAL COUSINS! There are many questions posed by the results and nominations of Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Awards--George Lopez was considered for "Favorite Movie Actor," apparently due to his role in Beverly Hills Chihuahua, a burlesque troupe was nominated as "Favorite Musical Group," and somehow, no one from Twlight the movie got any nominations. But what I want to focus on is the "Favorite TV Actor" category--leaving aside how Jason Lee somehow got into the mix, how exactly does one determine a preference between Cole and Dylan Sprouse in the category, which Dylan won?
MADE A MEAL OUT OF ME AND CAME BACK FOR MORE: Today is the birthday of Angus Young, the talented guitarist of AC/DC.

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 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").

Sunday, March 29, 2009

CAN YOU HEAR THE SOUNDS OF HYSTERIA? 15 years ago, when Dookie arrived in record stores, the concept of a Green Day musical on Broadway would have been completely unthinkable. Rent didn't arrive until 1996, and Broadway was being dominated by Passion (critically) and Beauty and the Beast (commercially). Now, however, American Idiot: The Musical will premiere in California this fall, and, I presume, eyes Broadway next season alongside the Julie Taymor Spider-Man musical, the Marc Shaiman musicalization of Catch Me If You Can, and Phantom: Love Never Dies.
ELEPHANTITIS: Even aside from the end of the leg (though nice work, Amazing Editors, in keeping it suspenseful), I really disliked this leg of the Race. Two First-In-First-Out tasks separated by a complete needle in a haystack task, and worse than most needle in a haystack tasks in that it was actually harder for later teams to catch up, do not make for an entertaining leg. Here, the denominator was fixed, whereas in the infamous "9 clues in the 100+ haystacks" task, as each haystack opened, the denominator diminished.) Also, they clearly did not use the standard 12 or 36 hour time differential, as a team that checked in during the last leg at 10 AM left in daylight. But Phil again demonstrated his awesomeness, Victor again demonstrated he's an asshat, and Margie and Luke continue to get the "inspirational" edit. Also for discussion--the penalties--appropriate, excessive, or not enough?