Saturday, May 16, 2009

ALL HAIL OUR NEW GREEN CANADIAN OVERLORDS: Nick Paumgarten explains why all those Commerce Bank pens (28M given away in 2006) were a bad sign.
ONE WOULD THINK THEY'D ASK KRUGMAN FIRST: The New York Times may try a new pay-for-content scheme:

Executive editor Bill Keller said at a meeting with staff on Wednesday that two proposals are being strongly considered.

One includes a "meter system," in which the reader can roam freely on the Web site until hitting a predetermined limit of word-count or pageviews, after which a meter will start running and the reader is charged for movement on the site thereafter. He warned staff at the meeting that this pay model would be "tricky." If the word-count limit or page-view limit is set too low, it could chase readers off, compromising traffic and advertising revenue. He said the site presently makes "a lot, a lot of money" from digital advertising—though he wouldn't specify how much—and that executives at the paper believe it is "substantially more" than The Wall Street Journal currently makes on a subscription-based pay model. On the other hand, he said, set these bars too high and there will be little improvement in revenue.

Mr. Keller described the second proposal as a "membership" system. In this model, readers pledge money to the site and are invited into a "New York Times community." You write a check, you get a baseball cap or a T-shirt (if it's like Channel Thirteen, a tote bag!), an invite to a Times event, or perhaps, like The Economist, access to specialized content on the Web. He said he wouldn't even be opposed to offering a donor access to a Page One editorial meeting as long as it doesn't affect the paper competitively.
Some day, someone's going to figure out how to make online journalism profitable. I hope.
LOOK, I DON'T NEED THIS! I WAS IN JAWS, OKAY? Remember that whole thing in the Amazing Race finale about Jamie and Cara being upbraided for using the local police as a concierge service? Apparently, prior to his visit to P-Town, Richard Dreyfuss did not get the memo.

Friday, May 15, 2009

FOUND OBJECTS: This post has spoilers about things that happened on the Lost season finale, "The Incident." I don't know too many people who both care about Lost and haven't watched the finale, but if you're one of them, stop reading.

This came up in the comment thread Wednesday night, but I just wanted to highlight something. I thought it was an excellent (but not pantheon-level) Lost, but mostly I was impressed with how intricately-written it was, weaving together not just the basic mythology, the Romeo and Juliet B-story, the turtles-all-the-way-up (tm Carmichael Harold) escalating conflicts (survivors vs. survival; survivors vs. Others; Others vs. Dharma; Ben vs. Widmore; Jacob vs. Esau), but also a number of allusions to prior season finales. To be clear, I'm not saying these are coincidences or minor similarities, in the nature of a high-school "compare and contrast" paper. I think these were explicit callbacks to the prior finales and restagings of pivotal scenes or shots. To wit:
  • In the Season 1 finale, "Exodus," Jack takes a volatile explosive (old dynamite) from an anachronistic source (an inland-beached galleon) and carries it in a backpack to the Swan hatch, to blow it up. In "The Incident," Jack takes a volatile explosive (a plutonium core rigged to blow on impact) from an anachronistic source (an underground Egyptian temple) and carries it in a backpack to the Swan hatch, to blow it up. "Exodus" ends with the camera going down the hatch. "The Incident" ends with the camera going down the hatch (though it is shot in the accelerating style of the last shot in the pre-credits opening of the Season 2 opener, "Man of Science, Man of Faith," when the camera went the other direction).
  • The Season 2 finale was "Live Together, Die Alone." In "The Incident," Juliet answers Sawyer's "what do we do, Blondie?" question with "Live together, die alone." The climax of "Live Together, Die Alone" is the implosion of the Swan, followed by Desmond, laying underneath the station, turning the failsafe key, triggering a fade to white. In "The Incident," the Swan implodes, followed by Juliet, laying underneath the station rubble, beating the bomb with a rock, triggering a fade to white.
  • In the Season 3 finale, "Through the Looking Glass," Ben asks to speak with Jack alone before Jack does something that will cause everyone on the island to die. "The least you can give me is five minutes," he says. "Five minutes," Jack responds, and Ben invites Jack to "have a seat on the rock." In "The Incident," Sawyer asks to speak with Jack alone before Jack does something that will cause everyone on the island to die. "I need five minutes, that's all ... you owe me that much, Jack," says Sawyer. "Five minutes," replies Jack, and Sawyer invites Jack to "take a load off" on the rock. Also, in "Through the Looking Glass," Hurley rides to the rescue in a Dharma microbus. In "The Incident," Hurley rides to the rescue in a Dharma microbus.
  • The big reveal in Season 4's finale, "No Place Like Home," is that the object in the box is Locke's corpse. The big reveal in "The Incident" is that the object in the box is Locke's corpse.
WHAT'S A CANADIAN FARM BOY TO DO? Oh, this makes me happy -- Kevin Smith and Mitch Albom to collaborate on a film adaptation of Warren Zevon's "Hit Somebody", the greatest hockey song ever.
CAROLINE? In the category of "news that while surprising, will make many people around here happy," The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that Fox is "leaning toward" giving Dollhouse a Season 2 pickup, subject to costcutting--apparently the DVR/iTunes/Hulu numbers are very good. Some things are easy to cut (Reed Diamond likely won't be returning, and some of the characters (Victor, Topher) could have their episode count reduced without a problem), but the production values will hurt. The show improved a lot in the tail half of the season, even coming up with some interesting stand-alones like "Echo is a dead woman," but does anyone care?

ETA: Confirmed all over the darn place. Other pickups confirmed--Castle, Courtney Cox/Busy Phillips sitcom Cougar Town, and Scrubs (with Braff and Chalke as guest stars only, but deals struck for McGinley, Faison, and Flynn to return full time).

ETA X2: Finke is reporting a pickup for Better Off Ted (yeah!), and Hollywood Reporter has the following Fox fall schedule:
  • Sunday--Football and animation, including the Family Guy spin-off Cleveland.
  • Monday--House and Lie To Me
  • Tuesday--Fringe and Human Target
  • Wednesday--So You Think You Can Dance and Glee
  • Thursday--SYTYCD Results and Bones
  • Friday--Dollhouse and TBD
(An interesting question--does that schedule suggest that Fox is finally going to go with the oft-rumored move of Idol to a Wed-Thurs schedule in the Spring to increase ratings on the lucrative Thursday night?)
WHO WANTS TO BE A MIFFLINAIRE/SHE CAUGHT THE KIDNEY: Last night was a great one for couples on NBC. There were, of course, Jim and Pam, and Michael and Holly, and David Wallace and Stringer Bell, and Dwight and Rolf, and the stuff with Tracy and Pete and their wives and Cerie and her fiancee, but I wanted to single one couple out for special mention: After 23 years, somebody finally figured out a way to put at least two of the Beastie Boys on a comedy show (the right two, in my opinion, since MCA is so dour).

Thread is open for those shows and their blockmates.
WE WILL FIGHT THEM ON THEIR VOICE MAIL, AND IN THEIR WEB SITES: It's been five months since I last complained here about those annoying "this is your second notice" auto-warranty robo-calls that I keep getting on my office (never list number on commercial transactions), home (do not call), and cell (illegal to robo-call) lines. Some Reddit users didn't just get mad, though, they (tried) to get even, flooding putative violator Auto One's voice mail boxes with prank calls and messages. Pity poor David Tabb of Auto One, who says, in his company's defense, that "ninety percent" of the retaliators have never been contacted by his company, and that he pays a premium to ensure that the irritating advert reaches only people who have opted in to receiving solicitations. I'm sure he's telling the truth, because why would the guy who authored the forthright and not at all misleading "this is your second notice that the auto warranty on your car is about to expire" message lie?
DARK AND TWISTY: There's apparently pent-up demand for a Grey's thread, and the interview with Shonda over at EW, which includes the admission that "We tried some stuff that didn't work this season," seems like a jumping off point to discuss the finale to a season that's had both highs and lows.
#59 - A FIVE-MINUTE HIGHLIGHT REEL FEATURING A COLOR COMMENTATOR AND PLAY-BY-PLAY ANALYSIS IN THE STYLE OF A CLASSIC ANNOUNCER. THE SPORT? MEDIEVAL TIMES: DINNER AND TOURNAMENT: Last weekend, the annual University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt was held. Here's this year's nineteen page list of items (PDF), with favorites including:

24. Walk through an automatic car wash dressed as Captain Cutler's Ghost. You would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for that spot free rinse. [10 points]

45. Sure, the latest Indiana Jones movie sucked, but those Crystal Skulls were undeniably awesome; perhaps they'll make appearances in other famous franchises? To start the crossovers, bring us one of Dan Aykroyd's crystal heads signed by a bona de Ghostbuster. [10 points for Ray, 20 points for Venkman, Egon, Winston, or Louis]

69. This one time I dreamed I was eating a giant marshmallow, but when I woke up my pillow was gone. I would so like to see that pillow again. Err, on second thought, bring me a new marshmallow pillow, along with its non-marshmallow pillowcase. [15 points]

101. Many a man thinketh that it is less than noble when We, the Judges, writeth items that are in the fashion of items of yesteryear. Never mindeth that much of these are born to be great, or that many a man completeth them with earnest fervor, if it must be so, if all items which are not completely new are by their very nature ignoble, then I giveth thee such an item without pretense, a repetition that dost not pretend to be noble--I giveth thee the Blagojevich coif. Or, rather, his stylist shall. [6 points]

129. Commies really do conspire to rule America, you know. Prove it with a one dollar bill bearing a serial number as close as possible to the longitude and latitude of Moscow. [10 points for being within 100 miles, 10 bonus points for being the closest]

163. There's a Brooklyn cocktail, a Bronx, and of course a Manhattan . . . but what about Queens and Staten Island? Your chief mixologist should concoct a fitting recipe to honor one of these long-suffering boroughs. [3 points]

192. A shtekeleh. [7 points]

234. You don't want to be just another asshole with prints of Starry Night and Dali's clocks plastered indiscriminately across your walls, do you? Demonstrate your worldly tastes and obvious class by reproducing one of Damien Hirst's major installations in your dorm room. You can scale it down, but will it still be art? [15 points]

243. Have the Bad Horse Singers deliver a message to your favorite Evil MacArthur Genius. [20 points]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

THE THUMB ON THE SCALES: Candor compels a confession here. As happy as I am that Adam Lambert has reached the American Idol finals, the role of the producers/judges in manipulating the show to encourage this result is, in a word, troubling. Indeed, had they done all this on behalf a less worthy (IMHO) contestant, we'd be livid right now. Let's review:
  • Adam performed in the final slot (i.e., "the pimp slot") the last three weeks in a row, plus one more finals slot ("Mad World") plus his semifinal performance. Other than Anoop (in the double elimination week - so he wasn't necessarily last), no performer has ever been eliminated prior to the final four from the pimp slot. By comparison, Danny wasn't pimp-slotted after the semifinals, and Kris only once half-way through the finals.
  • The explicit call for voting on Adam's behalf Tuesday night.
  • The EW cover -- the first time a singer got a solo cover during the competition.
  • Simon and others doing media interviews professing their belief that Adam should win.
  • Adam had a full audition promo package, as did ten of the other twelve finalists. Kris (and Allison) didn't, and it matters.
So, yes, America voted, and we've got the most talented, likeable and evenly-matched final pairing since Carrie Underwood-Bo Bice ... but let's concede that one candidate got his posters and field workers placed a lot closer to the polling places than the others, and Idol wasn't exactly fair to Adam Lambert's rivals in the final three.
GET UP, STAND UP: Walt Dropo was an okay baseball player in the 1950s, a one-time all-star who finished twice in the top thirty in MVP voting. His claim to fame is that he holds the major league baseball record for consecutive hits without recording an out or walk -- 10 straight hits.

Up is Pixar's tenth film, and its bid for a share of Walt Dropo's record. Honestly, I haven't been wild about the previews. It seems a little more standard-cartoony than the fully realized worlds of, really, all the Pixar movies except for Cars (I was going to do a "but especially," but my "but especially" included six movies, so forget it). Nevertheless, it's Pete Docter's first picture since the beloved (by Marsha and me, anyway) Monsters, Inc., and the preliminary tomatometer, including entries from Ebert, Corliss, and Variety, is 100% positive. Excited? Moderately or enthusiastically so?
IS IT HIS TURN? After allegedly being turned down by Will Ferrell and James Gandolfini, I'll just say that the choice of host for the 63rd annual Tony Awards will make many ThingThrowers very very happy.
I WILL NOT BE GOING TO A LOCAL HOSPITAL AND INTRODUCING MYSELF AS "DOCTOR MCBLOGGY:" I am in the Seattle area for a conference from Saturday through Thursday noontime. While much of my time is taken up with conference-related-activities, suggestions from ThingThrowers about things to do, places to eat, and/or things to mumble incoherently over gnarly guitars are welcome.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WHAT THE FUDGE JUST HAPPENED? Consider this an open thread to discuss the Lost season finale. I'll update after it gets to the West Coast, and possibly after I also watch Danny Gokey get eliminated from American Pop Music Insiders Arguing With Each Other. While you wait, and while we get ourselves all cleaned-up and detoxed in preparation for Bee Week, please imagine what it would be like if Sawyer always used "fudge" where a more popular f-incepted expletive would be appropriate.

ETA: Well, fudge you, Jack, and fudge you Miles for pointing that out (though the show was nice enough to let us off the hook there), and fudge you Juliet for acting all out of character, and fudge you Radzinsky and Phil, just for the fudgeofit. But nice job, Damon and Carlton, for the tidy little parallel between tonight and the Season 1 trek from the Black Rock (hi, Black Rock!) to the Swan with a backpack full of old dynomite, and for the callback tonight to another season's final reveal, and for doing your duty yet again under the Deadwood Full Employment Act (hi, Silas!).

If I had one nagging thought this entire episode, it was that it is discomforting, and not mildly so, to realize that we're five years into caring about these characters (or some of them), and suddenly it's apparent that most of our heroes are a bunch of zealot terrorists trying to drop a thermonuclear bomb into a peaceful construction site and the rest are plotting to kill God. If, five years ago, we started in the compound watching a bunch of dirty and self-destructive people fall out of the sky to upset our idyll (just like Sawyer and Juliet did a few episodes ago), we probably would have an entirely different perspective on this little adventure.

Oh, yeah -- and what did we accomplish at the end there?

We're all set for next season, right? Well, then, go hence, to have more talk of these sad things; some shall be pardon'd and some punished: for never was a story of more woe than this ...

rev'd.&.ext'd: It did, but you knew I was going to say that. The Lambert and Gokey parts of this are easy to discuss -- Lambert came in as a natural talent, was a bit show-offy at times but luckily had his most questionable performance early on ("Ring of Fire") back when there was plenty of chaff to thresh. (Seriously: Michael Sarver, Scott Macintyre, Jasmine Murray, and Megan "Caw Caw" Joy Corkrey were in this same competition?) Danny, on the other hand, had his clunkers late, and never seemed to progress beyond where he started -- talented at the adult contemporary stuff he does, but that was it.

As for Kris, when he first appeared during the second semifinal week, I called Kris not very memorable and "a lesser Chris Richardson"; Kim said that she "happen to have really liked [him] - I love Man in the Mirror, and it was great to hear it sung without the MJ stuff. But he can't make it through." Both of which was wrong, but at least less wrong than Our Friend Dan Fienberg's comments:

Who? How did this guy get into the Top 36, judges? This is embarrassingly middle-of-the-road, karaoke, talent-show. It's less than middle-of-the-road. At least Nick Mitchell was joking and found ways to get away from his vocal liabilities. Kris just sings earnestly, without distinction or self-awaress, blending into the background before my eyes. Generic. He couldn't make the Top 12 on "Canadian Idol."
(Talk about a stacked week -- Adam, Kris, Allison and three other finalists, plus the Norman Gentile "And I Am Telling You". In retrospect, a semifinal even more talented than the Clay-Ruben-KLocke group in season two.)

So what happened with Kris? I think it's a combination of earnestness, a strong sense of what arrangements work for him, non-threatening-boyness, and his being absolutely contemporary in his choices. He has delivered time and again -- not only with performances of "Ain't No Sunshine," "She Works Hard for the Money," "Falling Slowly" and "Heartless," but also by creating an artistic persona through his choices of being The Good, Empathetic Guy. (Granted, with the exceptions of "All She Wants to Do Is Dance" and "Come Together".) He's not strutting or preening; he's just a modest guy singing heartfelt songs, and he does it well. He is far from the most gifted singer we've ever seen, but he is an outstanding performer.

I am excited for next week's finals.
UP TWELVE SLOTS FROM LAST YEAR? According to Maxim, which apparently has been given some sort of semi-official power to make these sort of determinations, the hottest woman on the planet this year is House starlet Olivia Wilde. Megan Fox comes in at #2, and SI covegirl Bar Refaeli comes in at #3. Malin Akerman, Mila Kunis, Eliza Dushku, Adriana Lima, Rhianna, Jordana Brewster, and Jennifer Love Hewitt fill out the top 10. In other battles of the hot:
  • People named "Jessica"--Biel (#11) edges Alba (#13)--Simpson did not place.
  • Gossip Girl--Leighton Meester (#12) beats Blake Lively (#33)
  • Former Disney Starlets--Vanessa Hudgens (#27) over Hilary Duff (a surprisingly high #31) and Ashley Tisdale (#73)
  • Politics--Michelle Obama (#93) beats Meghan McCain (DNP) and Nancy Pelosi (DNP)
Reigning Esquire sexiest woman alive Halle Berry also did not make the Hot 100.
JEFFSTER! FOREVER: The other day, Matt linked to a story about the music of Gossip Girl. Long before I quit that show, I remember thinking -- and possibly saying here -- that the music on Josh Schwartz's other show, Chuck, to my taste, was much better. This season only supported that.

Chuck's tone is basically goofy optimism tinged with occasional heartache. So it's no surprise that that's Chuck's musical signature too. Whatever the musical range of the artists chosen, Chuck's music supervisor (or Schwartz himself) seems to hone in on those bands' most jangly, optimistic, upper mid-tempo pop, sometimes whisper-sung and sometimes anthemic, but usually the kind of stuff you could imagine playing over a closing scene with the hero and his girl riding off into the California sunset in a convertible with the bad guys' headquarters burning behind them. Toss in a few angsty scottish breakup rockers, some 80s covers/tributes, and some musical puns, and you get the idea. Don't believe me? Here's my own set of Season Two musical highlights: (That last band, by the way, has a great agent: of the 17 songs they have on iTunes, two are used on commercials and one was licensed for a network television show). And while I'm talking about Chuck, TV Week via Sepinwall says that NBC sources are telling them that renewal prospects look good.
THEY SAY THAT THEY DON'T SEE WHAT YOU SEE IN ME: Tell me if I've got this about right -- the Glambert fans here find Hokey Gokey lame and don't want him in the finals; the Gokey fans regard Lambert as indulgent and shrieky and don't want him in the finals ... but everyone likes Kris Allen and wants to see him in the finals?
ODDS ARE WELL BETTER THAN EVEN THIS WILL EXCITE SOME FOLKS:Delaware has legalized sports betting (at least in a very limited way), and the NFL, upset about this apparent affront to the integrity of its game, is trying to block it, arguing that sports betting involves more "skill" than "chance."
TALKING TRASH ABOUT AN EX-GIRLFRIEND IS WORTHY OF A 6-GAME SUSPENSION, BUT ... a punch to the face of a player clearly not even defending himself is not worthy of any suspension even when the rule book calls for an automatic suspension.

The NHL's disciplinarian-in-chief Colin Campbell's baffling decision regarding Carolina's Scott Walker defies all logic. Take a look at the picture in the SI article in that link!

Is it any wonder that the league's playoff games are on the Versus network? And if you had not heard of Versus before last week, that makes two of us.

Sean Avery has not commented (at least as far as I know).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

LET'S DO THE SPACE-TIME WARP AGAIN: Idol isn't the only show on Fox Tuesday night, or even the only one featuring embarassing singers (or at least those who were embarassing singers in another universe). Yeah, Fringe took a while to find its footing this year (wrapping up the Mark Valley story thread took way too long, and some of the Monster Of The Week episodes were awfully repetitive), but that was a solid finale, with a killer closing couple of scenes (both the graveyard scene and the appearance by the ultra-special guest star) that raises even more questions for next year.
DID ANYONE ELSE NOTICE THAT KRIS WAS WEARING LAMBERT'S NAIL POLISH DURING THE ARKANSAS VISIT? Wow, did the top three of yore actually sing three songs each in an hour? Inconceivable. By this point, anyone who didn't set their DVR for spillover deserves what they get. On with the show!


You Put Your Left Foot In -- "Dance Little Sister"

By far the hippest Danny Gokey we've seen since we started this whole thing back in January. Except for the doo-doo-dooing with mini-Clarence, which was a little bit cheeseball. He also got a turn with the Kris Allen wardrobe crew, who gave him one of Kris's vaguely-military jackets. It's a good look for him. All that being said, I was really excited for this song when I listened to the original earlier today, and wasn't as excited after hearing Danny's actual performance. -- Kim

A little hoarse and shouty, but pretty good. He was hurt by putting the Idol Orchestra up in the sky again; he'd have been better served surrounded by the band. Anywhere earlier in the competition, he'd be completely safe with this. -- Adam

Kris -- "Apologize"

When Kris tries to sell a song emotionally, it feels real. Had a little trouble with the high note at the start of the chorus, but overall this was a lovely, heartfelt performance. I just feel badly that I didn't "get" Kris earlier in the competition. P.S. to Kara: thank you for the sign language explaining what "acoustic guitar" means -- ah, strummy strummy! -- Adam

I am once again to be praised for appreciating Kris way back when. It bugs me, though: when Kris was picking the arrangement for this song, he knew -- even if the judges (theoretically) didn't -- what he was going to do for his second song, so of course he couldn't arrange it the way Kara et al. thought he should. Hmph. Yes, it was extremely faithful to the original, but it was really pretty and nice and in the heart of Kris's strike zone. I also love that he's the only one of the final three who can play an instrument and that he chose to showcase those talents. (Had we seen Kris behind the big piano previously?) In the battle for the second spot in the finals, round one to Kris. -- Kim

The Lambert -- "One"

Very, very nice. And very Lamberty without feeling like a rehash of the slow-croony stuff. Let me note for a moment how good he looked for this song. And I don't mean that in a squeeing sort of way. I love the guy as an artist, but he doesn't normally look like a star. The stylists really did a great job during this first go-round. The outfit is dialed-back, the hair is wicked cute, the skin is under control. The only thing that bothered me was the little Spock ears effect of the earpieces poking out from behind his hair. -- Kim

Put that tongue back! A little bit odd on the arrangement, but his vocals, damn. The only thing I can compare him to is himself, and while it may have been a B on the Lambert Scale, it still puts a beatdown on the other two. -- Adam


You Take Your Left Foot Out -- "You Are So Beautiful"

This was not the time the time to rein it in. If you're going Joe Cocker, do A Little Help From My Friends and blow it the fuck out. Bad choice, performed competently. -- Adam

Hi, Lite-FM chick here, and I confess that I like this song. I thought the judges' ebullience was a little overgushy, but I liked this a lot more than "Dance Little Sister." You can hate Hokey Gokey if you like, but he did a good job on this one. -- Kim

Kris -- "Heartless"

Finally! Solo acoustic Kris Allen! FINALLY!! Loved it, especially after relistening to the original. A ballsy choice. But for the weird Hickesque fan support for Gokey, I'd say that Kris is a lock. But of course Gokey is Gokey, so who knows. -- Kim

My wife disagrees, but I thought it was brilliant. If the goal is the find The Next Pop Superstar, that's a Next Pop Superstar. Sincere, well-sold, ballsy and completely unexpected from the Bible Belt. Not a "singer's song," but a great performance -- it takes real musical smarts and confidence to take a autotuned rap song and make that out of it. Put him in the finals. -- Adam

The Lambert -- "Cryin'"

"Dear Danny, Get out your notepad. This is how you fucking sing Aerosmith. Love, Adam." Seriously, to take an artist that your principal competition botched, and do it yourself the next week? We've never seen anyone do something so in-your-face before on the show, and needless to say it kicked ass. Text VOTE to 5703, people. Over and over again. -- Adam

Seriously. THAT'S how you scream your ass off on the Idol stage. I have to say, though, that it was an oddly terrible choice to have one of the backup singers doing melody along with Lambert, apparently miked at full strength. Fortunately that went away after a while, because it was kind of intolerable up until that point and improved immeasurably thereafter. Have we ever heard Simon say "don't fuck this voting thing up, people" so clearly before? And once again, Adam is nothing but gracious on stage, this time praising Kris and Danny. Sure, he can afford to be gracious, but he never fails to thank someone. Adam Lambert is a class act. Stop reading and start voting. -- Kim
THREE THINGS ABOUT TEN HUMANS: Will Leitch's "Ten Humans" column at Deadspin is a reminder of why I miss him so much. He was a thoughtful, measured ringmaster for a circus of more boisterous performers; the atonality created by surrounding Leitch with cruder writers was one of the nice things about the site. It's not that current editor A.J. Daulerio is bad -- I loved his Hunter S. Thompson-inspired forays into first-person scene-crashing, and as Leitch keeps saying, Daulerio is a real journalist. It's just that now there's Daulerio the editor and often a bunch of contributors imitating him, upsetting the delicate balance Leitch created.

This week's "Ten Humans", for example, had a few nice things. First, the opening story of Leitch's The Sporting News contest, in which Leitch awarded the winner a trip with him to the ballpark of the winner's choice. It starts with Leitch offering to meet the winner at Pittsburgh's PNC Park (mere steps from Leitch's hotel, Leitch explains to the winner), where Leitch promises that the drinks are on him. It ends with the winner's mother wondering why a strange man from New York is telling her 13-year-old son that he will buy the kid some alcohol when they rendezvous by his hotel.

Second, and of interest to our readership, Leitch notes that the running joke of Lost is that for four seasons, everybody did everything Jack said even though Jack's decisions were invariably wrong. Jack's current idea is that he should probably blow up a nuclear bomb to change history. Leitch posits that while that is clearly the most preposterous plan Jack has ever advocated, the fact that nobody is willing to follow him this time makes it highly likely that he's right.

Third, Leitch suggests that the Nationals pass on Stephen Strasburg, the greatest college pitcher of all time (once accidentally struck out 24 batters while trying to induce ground balls; 18K/9; 10:1 K/BB) in next month's draft. Nationals, listen to this man. Let Strasburg fall to number 2.
RETAIL PRICE IS 25 OR 6 TO 4: For all three of you holding out on the whole music game craze until you can get one that is entirely the hits of Chicago, it may well be in the works, as the Chicago holding company has applied for (among others) HORN HERO BY CHICAGO. The Onion, naturally, got there first.
HOLDING OUT FOR SHATNER AS WELL: Somehow, James Spader has never done Mamet before, at least in a major production, but he'll be the lead in Mamet's new play, Race, opening on Broadway this fall. We still know nothing about it, but it's safe to guess that there will be profanity and references to the thing at the place.
XEROX, KLEENEX, FAX: Spacewoman and I had a polite disagreement about whether it's "tee ball" or "t-ball." My position was that you hit a ball off a tee; ergo, "tee ball." Her position was that the web site where you sign your kid up says "t-ball"; ergo, t-ball. As always, Wiki has the answer: "tee ball" is a registered trademark, so everybody who calls their sport by that eminently descriptive name gets a cease and desist letter from some scary New York lawyer named Matt Marcotte. T-ball, on the other hand, makes no sense but is perfectly acceptable.
THE FORMER MISS ONTARIO RETIRES WITH HER FIRST CIGARETTE AFTER YEARS: I've waited a while, but I guess I can't wait any longer to comment on the train wreck over at the Miss USA pageant (motto: "Guaranteed Tawdrier than Miss America"). Miss California Carrie "Helen" Prejean, of course, sailed not particularly successfully between the Scylla and Charybdis of modern controversy when she took a very public anti-gay-marriage and pro-waist-up-nudity stance. This isn't the place to debate those positions (though in full disclosure, I vehemently disagree with one and wholeheartedly agree with the other).

Still, it's amusing that the people who got to decide whether Prejean violated the pageant's morality clause or failed to represent it with appropriate dignity are or have been: (a) Shanna Moakler, who was arrested for drunk-punching Paris Hilton and whose past relationships included Billy Idol, Travis Barker, and lingerie-wearing Oscar de la Hoya; and (b) Donald Trump, himself not a person to whom the phrase "paragon of virtue" is commonly applied (Trump, incidentally, seems to have indicated that he agrees with both of Prejean's positions). Also, Miss California runner-up (and reigning Miss Malibu) Tami Farrell has been elevated to 1a status because Prejean has been "unavailable." Isn't "availability" pretty much the only requirement for a reigning pageant queen?

ETA: Prompted by Adlai's comment, I should mention that the Urban Dictionary entry for opposite marriage is very, very funny.
TURBO, LASER, TASER:Today's "serious beating for someone in Hollywood" is awarded to whoever thought American Gladiators: The Movie would be a good idea. Now, how about some clips?
INTRODUCING THE HARD CHOICES ACCORDING TO RANDY, PAULA N'SIMON: We don't have a comprehensive "songs we'd recommend week" for this week in Idol because the leak of the judges' choices threw some of us for a loop. I mean, really: I am a big fan of [relatively obscure late-80s soul singer whom I've recommended for this show before], and he's a perfect match for Hokey Gokey's voice, but that song, really? Are they trying to sabotage him with an obscurity? I will just plead with him not to go inspirational ballad for his second choice, and if he goes "Tears In Heaven," there will be no stopping my wrath.

They selected a decent song for Kris, and I'd like to keep him upbeat for #2 -- the Jack Johnson/G. Love cover of "Holiday" works for me, and yes I'll keep recommending Jack Johnson for him until he does it. As for The Lambert, either of the potential Simon choices works for him, obvs, though being relatively low-key they destroy my suggestion of his covering Leadbelly's "In The Pines". I now assume he'll want to go Glambert for his other song, and our continuing recommendation of Guns n'Roses still holds -- anything where he can strut and extend the upper range. Can he attempt DLR-era Van Halen?

Your recommendations, hopes and dreams are welcome. Yes, we can get into the spoilered songs too.

e.t.a. Isaac's picks:

Danny Gokey: "Black," Pearl Jam. From the same era, roughly, as his presumptive Judges' Pick, but it balances out his adult-contemporary leanings and would work well with his voice, I think.

Kris Allen: "Toxic," Britney, but the Mark Ronson version. I know I pimp this every chance I get, but this is a great pop song, slightly more menacing than Kris is used to, but also something that could be reworked to fit his style, attitude, and instrumental strengths. Or another reworked Britney song, "Baby (One More Time)," Marty Casey or Fountains of Wayne version, which has a nice rising chorus. In both cases, the cover is in Allen's wheelhouse but is obscure enough that it would sound inventive to an audience that for the most part remembers only the original.

Adam Lambert: It's sad falsetto week, isn't it? It's probably too soon for "Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)," and something like "I'll Follow You into the Dark" seems too on-the-nose. Like Kim always says, it's impossible to predict what he'll do (especially in a "sing anything" week), but assuming he plays it straight, let's go with "Oh Lately It's So Quiet," by OK Go. Catchy, unknown to the majority of Idol's audience (so it will seem like a Lambert original), and by an artist that has no qualms about licensing its songs. Kulash is a really good rock singer, too, so I think it's a good fit.
Related: Richard Rushfield with five reasons why Danny, Kris and Adam each will & won't become TNAI.

"This penultimate 10,000 Maniacs studio album was released twenty years ago this week."

Also twenty years ago this week: "Family Ties" and "Moonlighting" aired their final episodes.

Michael Emerson | TV | A.V. Club

HE'S A GREAT FORCE OF DARKNESS, I GUESS, BUT HOW MUCH ACTING GOES ON BEHIND A PLASTIC HEAD? I'M NOT SURE. IT SEEMS LIKE HIS COSTUME DOES MORE WORK FOR HIM THAN MINE DOES FOR ME: Lost's Michael Emerson compares himself to Darth Vader, and discusses the craft of creating Benjamin Linus/Henry Gale, as well as whether he's afraid of being typecast.

Monday, May 11, 2009

JUNGITE AUT PERITE: Philadelphia, say hello to your new MLS franchise nickname & logo -- Philadelphia Union starts play in 2010.

[Yes, this is a blog post about soccer. No, I don't expect another one for quite some time.]
SINCE I’M NOT SURE WHETHER OR NOT LUCY WILL BE GUEST-BLOGGING: I gather from the comments on Adam’s earlier post that we now have no shortage of commenters who are eagerly awaiting the return of So You Think You Can Dance. (It’s like American Idol, only tougher!)

My BFF Nigel Lythgoe just emailed me (ok, fine, he twittered) that Shane Sparks will be back on SYTYCD this season. Here’s hoping that the year off recharged his creative batteries. A look at the jidges page shows a big lack of Alex da Silva (hmmm), Adam Shankman (boooo), and Wade Robson (big boooooooo). We do have one new judge/choreographer this time around: Jamal Sims, who apparently worked with Shankman on Hairspray, as well as choreographing a bunch of other films.

So here’s a question: Which dances have stayed with you over the course of the last year? For me it’s the Mia Michaels door dance -- I can’t even hear the song in a store without stopping dead in my tracks -- and the unfathomably brilliant “The Garden” dance by Sonya Tayeh. (Nigel tells me that Sonya’s back, too!)

Ten more days until Cat!
CHUCK BASS SINGS THE BLUES: Paste Magazine chronicles some of the best musical selections to appear on Gossip Girl, including the Constance Billard choir's rendition of "Glamorous," Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks" (aka "That Whistling Song"), and Blair's striptease. No love for Rufus' band (seriously, that's a fine piece of 90's era pop) or for "Nolita Fairytale" at the end of Season 1's Thanksgiving Episode.
I'M A MAN WHO DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO SELL A CONTRADICTION: Boy George is out of the big house and is looking -- for Bog's sake - like a healthy and normal middle-aged Englishman, more interested in the Sky recap of Premier League than anything else. ALOTT5MA Staff wishes him well on his road to recovery.
NO DISCOUNT BASED ON WHETHER YOU ARE WEARING ENOUGH FLAIR: Perhaps in answer to Subway's ubiquitous "5 dollar footlong" promo, TGI Friday's has launched a short term promo offering a bunch of sandwiches and salads for $5 nationwide. Still not quite as good a deal as the Recession Special at Gray's Papaya, but not bad.
I'M NOT A MINER! NO, YOU'RE AN IDIOT: Lucy really enjoyed watching this season of the Amazing Race -- her first season of reality tv now-completed on her sixth birthday. She enjoyed learning about new countries, she liked watching the tasks, she (we hope) learned valuable lessons about how to be polite and how to be supportive of your friends, as well as the importance of keeping one's cool and not being frustrated.

Now that we've got her hooked, she wants more. I've got seasons 2-7 of the Race on DVD in fairly good condition, with season one being readily obtainable as well. We're trying to avoid anything with ugly behavior between partners she might imitate, which would argue against seasons 2 (TaraWil) and 6 (Jonathan and Victoria), but that would meant she'd also miss seeing Team ChaChaCha, Gary & Will, Lena & Kristy and Gus & Hera. Obviously, Colin & Christie pose a problem for season five, as does explaining the science of the caviar challenge. (Related: Extaordinarily Spicy Hungarian Soup.)

This is as much a parenting question as it is a "good entertainment" question. Would a six-year-old appreciate season one of Survivor, which is out on DVD? Should we let her watch SYTYCD when it begins in a few weeks? What's our next step?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

GODWIN'S LAW IN REALITY TELEVISION: TAR isn't the only reality finale tonight--if you want to talk about the battle of "whore pit viper pokah playah!" Annie Duke and "entertainment icon" Joan Rivers, here's a thread to discuss The Celebrity Apprentice, which, with a three-hour finale that might make the average episode of Idol seem like a model of economy.
DID WE SEE JESUS IN THE RACE? I am not a huge fan of one-hour Race finales -- I miss the Asia - to Hawaii/Alaska (oh, for the days of the ice globe challenge!) - and then to final city extravaganzas, but this one had much to recommend. Chief among them: a really nice strength/endurance exercise without any young/hunky teams to dominate it, and a by-now-expected memory test towards the end that saw some real drama and unexpected highlights.

I found the ending satisfying enough, but one quibble: can we make rid of the final task something other than "take a cab to a easily-located final point, then run?" Yes, such an interlude gives the teams an opportunity to tell the cameras What It All Means, but I'd prefer a bit more tension at the end, is all. Still, for all our complaining of how the Race seemed to deteriorate in recent years, the past few seasons have been solid enough -- but at some point, casting people for racing ability rather than arc potential would be nice. Please? Overall Season Grade: B/B-.