Saturday, February 27, 2010

I GUESS THE JUDGE SAW SOMETHING THAT WE DIDN'T SEE: A few more Olympic remainders -- a fantastic video by the NYTimes tracking Olympic Pictograms Through the Ages; CNBC's Darren Rovell ranks the 25 Most Marketable Winter Olympians (sadly, it's a slideshow); my favorite winter Olympian's film debut (3:10 in, NSFW); and for evolution of both skating and skater over time, Scott Hamilton's 1984 gold medal long program and Dorothy Hamill, 1976 ("her first difficult jump, a double axel right here.")

We've decided not to Cover-it-Live for the closing ceremonies tomorrow night, though we'll be active in the comments. (CIL will be back for the Oscars, of course.) But I do have this Closing Ceremonies story to tell, because Google has solved a mystery for me -- namely, at the close of the 1980 Summer Games (farewell, Misha!), how did they handle the handover to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics given the boycott? Was there still a presentation from a California contingent the way Atlanta introduced itself at the end of the Barcelona Games, Sydney at the end of Atlanta and so on?

As it turns out, unsurprisingly no one from Los Angeles was there. President Carter insisted that the IOC not even raise the United States flag in Moscow; instead, the Los Angeles city flag was raised, with IOC chair Lord Killanin urging the "sportsmen of the world to unite in peace before a holocaust descends." Despite the 1984 boycott, holocaust averted -- so far.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I REMEMBER HEARING FROM DAD THAT FOR GOOD STORYTELLING, YOU HAVE TO GIVE ALL THE CHARACTERS SOMETHING THEY WANT AND SET UP OBSTACLES TO THEM GETTING THOSE THINGS: The Wall Street Journal explores what makes Modern Family "the new face of network-television family comedy." Come May sweeps, we'll get to enjoy a very special Brady-esque development.
YES, BUT CAN SHE BACKFLIP AND LAND ON ONE SKATE? Gretchen recaps last night's ladies' free skate:
Figure skating requires a level of sustained perfection that, to me, is unique in the world of sports. There's no second run. There's no round robin play. A free skate for the women is just four minutes alone on the ice, with twelve required elements (each of which has numerous moving parts), elaborate choreography and transitions, bright lipsticked smiles, and the expectation of perfection. I can think of no other sport quite as unforgiving.

And last night, in one of the most thrilling Olympic competitions in years and years, Kim Yu-Na was, indeed, perfect -- both the best athlete on the ice and also the most elegant. Mao Asada's two triple axels were breathtaking; Joannie Rochette was sophisticated; Mirai Nagasu was charming and captivating. But Kim Yu-Na was perfect -- and deservedly the winner.

One final note: if you're sick of elegance and athleticism and would just prefer to see the glory of truly cheesy figure skating routines and costumes, be sure to catch the exhibition program on Saturday night, featuring your platinum medal winner Plushenko. I can hardly wait!
However, it ain't much of a gala if they don't have Johnny Weir skating to "Poker Face" -- and as of now, he's not invited. Last night;'s performances are all online here, and those with an enhanced sense of Schadenfreude will likely jump to Australia's Cheltzie Lee, who spent more time on the ice after a late failed jump than I've seen from a skater in some time.
I BOUGHT THE GEAR AND MARY SAID "SEEYA" LITTLE DID I KNOW IT WAS "MADE IN KOREA?": On personal privilege. I'm going to Seoul for five days on business in April and will have a free day ahead of my meetings and then a free morning after. Unfortunately, my preferred tourist attraction - the Panmunjom conference rooms at the DMZ -- is closed on the Monday and the tour wouldn't get back in time for my flight on the Friday. Any suggestions from the peanut gallery on things to see? If it matters, I'm staying very near the old Olympic Park and atop the COEX, the ROK equivalent of the Mall of America.
ALSO RULED OUT: ALEXANDER HAIG, WILLIAM COLBY, AND FRED FIELDING: Carly Simon has finally named David Geffen as the inspiration of "You're So Vain." This finally ends years of speculation that leading candidates Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson, and Cat Stevens were, in fact, vain.

Any other great pop culture mysteries yet to be solved?
'AUTHENTIC' IS A MOVING TARGET: Ha'aretz explores the question of what constitutes a "real" Jewish deli in the sustainable food era, recapping a debate which occurred recently in, shockers, Berkeley, CA. (Yes, Michael Pollan was in attendance.) While it certainly seems plausible that "what American Jews think of as the authentic Jewish deli is an ossified construct based on post-World War II ideals of abundance that had little to do with how Jews ate in early 20th-century New York, let alone in the Old World," it required 80-year-old Philadelphia native Max Cooperstein to bring it all home:
"I grew up on chicken necks, kishke, all the stuff that clogs your arteries," he reminisced, pushing his cap back on his head and smiling at the memory. "And I was a victim of it - I'm a cardiac patient. Now I eat lunch at the salad bar at Whole Foods."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A FIRST IMPRESSION: If you watch no other aspect of tonight's Idol elimination show, watch the group number at the beginning -- Crystal Bowersox and these Silver Platters numbers are an uneasy fit, so enjoy moments like this until her personality is assimilated into the 19 Entertainment Borg.

I'll go to one of my standby tropes of Idol analysis: do I think they eliminated someone tonight who could have won the competition? No. Do I think they eliminated the right four people? Hell no. Spoilers, after the break.
FAKEY MCGEE: Jebus that was a fun hour of Survivor -- twenty five minutes of exposition and parallel destabilization efforts before we got to our only challenge, a rather awesome and violent reward/immunity challenge -- and no one trusts anyone, at least as far as the editors are showing us. Everyone's working multiple angles, and the only truth is how you vote. I am completely invested in this season.
MY SAFE PREDICTION? YET AGAIN, MICHELLE KWAN WILL NOT WIN GOLD: Open thread for discussion of tonight's ladies free skate, with a few of my favorite links to tide you over: the Surya Bonaly illegal backlip from Nagano (FF to 3:15); Sarah Hughes reflects on her 2002 win (with video now here); Gretchen's recap of the 2006 long program; Chris Farley's skating routine; some Oksana Baiul and, for the guys, Katarina Witt's long programs from 1984, 1988 and 1994 And since I only tell these stories every four years, a 1992 flashback involving figure skating and decapitation, after the break:
WHAT KIND OF DAY IT WILL BE: For Snowpocalypse III: Snow Hardest day for much of our audience, a time-suck courtesy of our friends at PopWatch -- name your favorite television episode titles. As Darren Franich sets forth the rules:
It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to a good episode, or be from a good TV series. It could be a phrase that somehow encapsulates the the action of the episode, or the series, or even an entire state of mind; then again, it could just be a memorable play on words.
Knowing our crowd, feel free (as the post title suggests) to divide your lists into Sorkin and non-Sorkin episodes. I'll offer two of each: "The Crackpots and These Women" from The West Wing and Sports Night's "The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee"; MSCL's "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" and Lost's season three finale "Through The Looking Glass," which worked on more levels than I can count.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

JUST FORGET THE WORLD, FORGET WHAT WE'RE TOLD: Originality is good! It's bad! Get in your box! The judges were odd with commentary that seemed to be from another planet from last night, and the singers ranged from interesting to actively bad, so maybe this is the Year of the Chick Singer indeed. Fienberg's got the full recap, so I'll just summarize my thoughts in tiers:
#1 With A Bullet: Andrew Garcia, though somewhat based on earlier goodwill. "Sugar, We're Going Down" worked for me in a sincere way, but certainly wasn't great or anything. Also, he looks like more like Lea DeLaria than a male acoustic folk singer probably should, but I can overlook that for a bit.

More Than I Bargained For: Lee DeWyze really impressed me tonight on "Chasing Cars" -- rootsy, humble, sincere -- the opposite of Todrick Hall's gender-swapping "Since U Been Gone," where I really admired the conceptual audacity enough to overlook the unexceptional singing. (And that's where I knew the judges were just off tonight -- Randy sounded like a Season 1-4 judge with his commentary.) And while I'm not the target audience for The Hunky Casey James, I still get the appeal. [That said, all the judicial leering was unseemly, especially given the Corey Clark scandal. It's just not funny.]

You're Just A Line In A Song: I'm going to pretend that Jermaine didn't sing the Justin Guarini special of Oleta Adams' "Get Here" and make me pine for Sideshow Justin. Meanwhile, Tyler, John, Joe and Big Mike just bored me -- songs and performances which might have done well in the first era of Idol, but were way too conventional to merit much attention today. (Really, John Park, a song which only Mikalah Gordon and LaKisha Jones had done before on the show, and this struck you as a good idea? And Tyler, that "American Woman" was "rock," but not actual rock or roll.)

Going Down, Down In An Earlier Round:
Look -- Tim Urban's "Apologize" is its own planet of wrongness, a Juanita Barber/Bobby Bennett-level disaster that was as awful as a performance can be while still remembering all the words. He simply picked a song he could not sing. But that's not to excuse Alex Lambert And His Magical Mullet or Aaron Kelly's whiny country song, neither of whom suggested that there was anything else in the tank worth exploring.
You know what tonight proved? That America will be hungry for X Factor in Fall 2011, when the judges get to help the performers make smart decisions throughout the competition.

added, morning: The odd thing I forgot to mention -- it seemed like the producers handed bingo cards to Kara and Randy before the evening started, with the names of twenty-four contemporary artists on them. I swear that when Randy kept mentioning "Kings of Leon" over and over to Lee, that was his unsubtle indication to Kara that he completed his bingo.

Also, back to Todrick Hall. Back in March 2008, as part of our ongoing ALOTT5MA Symposium About The Sensitive Subject of Race, I noted that "as [Ann] Powers writes, that there's a certain profile of singer -- Brandon Rogers, Anwar Robinson, Gedeon McKinney and Rickey Smith (and I'd add Nikko Smith) -- that does not progress in the competition as far as his talent would suggest he should."

We may be adding Todrick to that list, and it's a shame -- why hasn't an Usher/Chris Brown/Ne-Yo type ever succeeded on this show?

Finally, read Dan's comment below.
IT'S ONLY AN ALLEGED KILLER WHALE FOR NOW, THOUGH THE ALLEGATIONS ARE TROUBLING: Really -- did the first two human deaths attributed to Tilikum "Telly" the Whale maybe suggest to someone that he shouldn't be confined near large groups of humans? Did anyone consider his classic serial killer traits -- his maleness, the existence of a prominent middle name, the fact that he was described as "quiet" and a "loner" (though he did cause violence to animals) and his generally covetous nature? This was preventable.
SUPER SOLDIER SERUM:So, apparently, there's a short list for folks to play Captain America. Some make a lot of sense--Scott Porter (aka Jason Street), Mike Vogel (from "Cloverfield"). Others are more bizarre--John Krasinski (too goofy?), Chace Crawford (too pretty boy). Any thoughts from the peanut gallery on the subject?
IT'S A TRAP! Ole Miss wants to update its image (still heavily shaped by the 1962 integration and accompanying riots), and to do so, has gotten rid of former mascot Colonel Reb. They're keeping the nickname "Rebels," though, so who's the logical choice pushed by students as a replacement? Why, of course, it's everyone's favorite Mon Calamari leader of the Rebel Alliance!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

THERE’S A LOT OF GIRLS WHO SING AND SOME OF THEM ARE GOOD AND SOME OF THEM ARE NOT BUT IT’S ALWAYS KINDA COOL THAT MOMENT WHEN THEY FIRST STEP TO THE MIKE: Welcome to Year of the Chick Singers on American Idol -- for whatever reason, there's a sharp divide in the twelve between Traditional Idol Divas and a group of guitar-playing, quirky singers of a sort not as often seen on the show, but wholly appropriate in an Idol era in which artistry and interpretation has become increasingly important. But can they sing?

Kim: I felt like a whole flock of quirky girls sat at home watching AI last year saying to themselves, hey, what’s up with this flappy Megan Joy chick? I can do that too, only marginally less weird. No one was really painfully horrific, but very few of them made an impact on me one way or the other. (Oh, and this is the first season of Idol in which I am joining the show in the semi-finals. I have watched zero minutes of the show prior to tonight.)

Adam: Less weird? You want to revisit that statement after Lilly and Bowersox? I basically didn't watch until Hollywood Week, but tonight's padded six-singers-per-hour show gave plenty of background, I thought. What I liked about tonight structurally was the experimentation with rotating the order of judges' comments. We'll see what dynamics work.

Kim: Lilly is obviously one of the Megan Joy acolytes. Didi too. I still don’t like the four judge format, and the rotation made me dizzy. You know what struck me: the show is in its ninth season. These kids have totally grown up on American Idol. The 17 year olds probably don’t remember life before Kelly Clarkson. Hand me my Metamucil and a walker, Adam, and let’s get started.
INTERRUPTED: ESPN has suspended Tony Kornheiser from Pardon the Interruption for two weeks for comments on his radio show regarding ESPN colleague Hannah Storm's appearance and clothing choices. I won't compound the injurious nature of his remarks by repeating them here (however minuscule our marginal expansion of the audience for them is) -- you can find them in full at the second link. But I can't think of a company in America which would tolerate an employee's public voicing of such comments regarding a colleague, and ESPN was correct to punish Kornheiser for crossing the line from Cranky Old Man to Leering Old Man.
SIT DOWN, SHUT THE DOOR: So, apparently, LionsGate is hoping to broaden the Mad Men brand, judging from their trademark application. Some of the things make a lot of sense--"men's suits," "cuff links," "cigarette lighter holder," "beverageware." Others raise eyebrows--"computer game programs," "action figures," "stickers." Yes--your very own Don Draper action figure. Push the button, and he says nothing.
DRINK EVERY TIME THEY SHOW ELIZABETH MANLEY IN THE AUDIENCE: Gretchen previews tonight's ladies figure skating short program:
Rachael Flatt is 17 years old. She's the U.S. National Figure Skating Champion, the only woman to have beaten Yu-Na Kim in international competition this year, and one of the most solid jumpers in ladies' figure skating. She's a senior in high school who has an A average (that includes multiple Advanced Placement courses) and she has pending applications to nine universities, including Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton. From the outside, it sure seems like she has parents who are neither obsessed with her skating career nor crazy. On paper, she has everything going for her. So why does she feel like the underdog going into tonight's competition?

To be sure, in light of Yu-Na Kim's dominance, maybe all of the women (except Mao Asada, who can land a triple axel) have to be viewed as underdogs. But the critique on Rachael seems different. Rachael's consistency is used against her as writers critique her as being "safe and solid." Sports Illustrated has described her skating as technically competent, without grace or beauty. But consistency -- and jumping prowess -- should be a good thing in a sport like figure skating!

I think that Rachael gets criticized because in an era where women hold themselves to a standard of "effortless perfection," Rachael shows you how hard she works. Her skating style -- full of gravity-defying jumps and spirit, rather than weightless spirals across the ice -- reflects her extraordinary effort. Rachael also doesn't fit the physical mold of an ice princess. She's not a lithe, tiny sprite of a figure skater -- she's more compact and solid. As even Rachael's mentor Dorothy Hamill said, "Right now, we think of the world and Olympic champions as these beautiful, ethereal creatures that happen to be able to spin and jump. Rachael's not a tiny little button, so she'll never have that."

Obviously, all of the skaters work extraordinarily hard. But women's skating prizes the special, once-in-a-lifetime performance -- the inspiration, rather than the perspiration, the ethereal, rather than the solid. The Tara Lipinski rather than the Michelle Kwan. The Nancy Kerrigan rather than the Tonya Harding. The ice princess, rather than the ice warrior. Rachael doesn't fit the effortlessly perfect, ice-princess, inspired model of a figure skater. But she has something just as valuable -- consistency, strength, and passion. Tonight, though the smart money leaves her out of medal contention, I'm rooting for Rachael.
The schedule for tonight's program has been posted, and folks whose dual tuner TiVos are committed to Lost and Idol through 10pm will not likely miss any medal contenders.
GRAND UNIFIED THEORY OF IDOL, #2: Veterans of this site will recall Theory #1, the tier theory which I've offered repeatedly, most clearly two years ago:
There are two groups of contestants in the Final 24 -- Those Who Can't Win The Whole Thing, and Those Who Can. As long as they get rid of the first group before starting to pick at the second, it's not worth stressing over the order of elimination. In other words, I don't care if Robbie Carrico goes before Jason Yeager, as long as they both are gone before Michael Johns is at risk. Similarly, with the ladies, as long as women like Asia'h Epperson and Brooke White are in it for a while, Kady Malloy and Ramielle Malubay can fight it out for 11th place.
The theory extends on microlevels throughout the competition -- the order of elimination last season between Megan Joy Corkrey, Michael Sarver and Scott MacIntyre didn't matter as long as they wall went before the final 4-5 singers, and it didn't matter whether Allison Iraheta or Danny Gokey went #3 vs #4, so long as Kris Allen and Adam Lambert were the final two.

It's time for Theory #2, which I want to crystallize so much that I'll blockquote it:
Whoever you think is the best singer during the round of 24, or who seems most fully-formed as an artist will not win American Idol. The winner of American Idol will be the singer who demonstrates the most development as an artist during the competition, and over whom the audience can claim more ownership and from whom they will derive more satisfaction as the competition progresses.
This theory tracks the last three seasons of American Idol well -- Jordin Sparks over Blake Lewis and Melinda Doolittle, David Cook over David Archuleta and certainly Kris Allen over Adam Lambert. In all three seasons post-Hicks/McPhee on Idol, in which original rearrangements and musicianship have been stressed, it has transitioned from being a Best Singer competition to a Best Artist competition, and within that competition fans will gravitate towards the best narrative. Each of the last three winners showed improvement as artists as the competition progressed, surpassing folks like Melinda Doolittle, Michael Johns, Matt Giraud and Danny Gokey who basically remained at their same (and in some cases, arguably higher) levels of professionalism and talent at which they entered the competition.

Bottom line: don't look at this week's best performances for your Next American Idol. Look instead towards the ones who are competent, somewhat surprising and vaguely interesting, and about whom you may know a little less than others. In other words, no matter how much you think you like him, that you know so much about him already means Andrew Garcia will not become The Next American Idol, because there's no place to go from the top.

[One caveat, however, and that's The Variable: Ellen DeGeneres. We don't know what her preferences are going to be among the singers, and her critiques (and praise) may subtly swing the course of this series just as much as Simon's do, as folks gradually (and perhaps subconsciously) incorporate her views along the way as their own. So if she starts focusing on the technical quality of the singing, all bets are off.]

Kim and I will be around shortly after 10pm with our roundup of tonight's performances.
HE COULD PAINT AN ENTIRE APARTMENT IN ONE AFTERNOON. TWO COATS: There is perhaps no more lazy form of blogging that the "here's a few more Hitler/Downfall parody videos that I like" quickie post, especially almost two years since the meme first took off. Conceded. Hitler finds out Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest flight; Hitler deals with the Grammar ... strict police and Hitler can't get Billy Elliot tickets.

Monday, February 22, 2010

THE ONLY TIME YOU'LL EVER SEE ISRAELIS COMPETE IN THE OLYMPICS: Gretchen, on last night's Olympic Ice Dancing original dance competition:
With flamenco, Bollywood, country, and an Australian aboriginal dance, last night's Original Dance competition felt a whole lot like So You Think You Can Dance On Ice. Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir slid into first place with a really wonderful flamenco that managed to be technically accomplished and intricate without losing the feeling of the dance. They have incredible lifts and their footwork was just terrific. By contrast, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto performed a Moldavian folk dance that, while clearly challenging, just never took off. The music had so many tempo and tonal changes that by the time the audience caught up with the melody and pace, the music had switched gears again. It just made it hard for the audience to really get into the performance. Nevertheless, I think Belbin and Agosto were underscored -- they were far superior, in my view, to Domnina and Shabalin.

Speaking of Domnina and Shabalin, I was just embarrassed for them. The ridiculous facial expressions, the faux foliage coming out of her ponytail and skates, the simple choreography -- I think they're clearly benefiting from some sort of a Russian Halo Effect. They just weren't very good. I obviously have no expertise to speak to whether the dance was authentic or not. I can, however, point you to this video of an Australian ice dancing team doing their own aboriginal dance. The Russians did most of their research on youtube; by contrast, O'Brian and Merriman worked out their choreography in consultation with actual aboriginal elders. To me, the big difference is in the facial expressions -- instead of mugging, the Australian team seems to be treating the choreography with respect.

I was, however, entertained by the sight of Shabalin on the sidelines, waiting for the prior couple to finish skating, grooving to the music. At least he was having fun!

Virtue and Moir have been beating Davis and White in the free skate for much of the competitive year, so I'm predicting gold for Canada tonight. I'd love to see Belbin and Agosto on the podium, partly because they've been so good for so long and really kicked down some doors for North American ice dance. One possible hope for Tanith and Ben is that the international judging panel will treat their free skate, which has religious themes, as more serious and thus more pointworthy than the Davis/White free skate to Phantom of the Opera. But I'm not optimistic.
Last night's videos are all here.
I'LL TAKE "CONFERENCE PANELS I'D LIKE TO ATTEND" FOR $400, ALEX: Coming on March 6, 2010, to the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference:
What Geeks Don't Get: The Limits of Moneyball

With a majority of top sports teams using analytics to build their roster, the value of statistical analysis is hard to argue against. However, numbers don't always tell the whole story, and at the end of the day, the pressure is on the decision maker to make the right move. On this panel, general managers and team owners will provide a glimpse into the decision making process that goes on behind the numbers.

Mark Cuban
Owner, Dallas Mavericks and Co-Founder & Chairman, HDNet

Jonathan Kraft
President, The Kraft Group (owners of the New England Patriots)

Daryl Morey
General Manager, Houston Rockets

Bill Polian
President, Indianapolis Colts

Bill Simmons
Columnist, ESPN

Michael Lewis
Author, Moneyball and The Blind Side

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I'D RATHER BE A SPARROW THAN A SNAIL, BUT I'D ALSO RATHER NOT HAVE THE TROMBONE OF DOOM PLAYED WHEN I'M TRYING TO WIN A MILLION DOLLARS: In a leg more haul-assy than most, in which we try to figure out what a cow has to do to get blurred out by the CBS censors and why only the Cowboys seem to have their own theme music (paging Flight Time and Big Easy!), we actually ended up with a pretty good leg of The Amazing Race which catered to fans of racing fundamentals -- can you figure out how to get to Point A to Point B? When a ticket agent disappoints you, how do you determine if there's a better answer? What travel risks are worth taking? And can you follow instructions?

And now, a brief interlude: Hey, llama. How's it goin'? I like your fur, that looks really great. So you're a llama, right? What's that all about? [llama just stares ahead, oblivious] Okay, well it was great to meet you. Say hi to your mother for me, okay?

Anyway, the teams may be dumb -- or seem dumb -- but the leg was structured well, and the finish certainly was tense. Grab some kuchen.

added: Recaps by Fienberg; Denhart; NYMag, and from the last: "Animal challenges can be standouts if the animals in question are stubborn enough; Race fans have had many delightful moments of schadenfreude watching teams curse and weep at camels, llamas, and donkeys. Unfortunately, other than giving an errant kick and the usual dash away, none of these llamas gave the teams enough trouble to make the trial memorable. (Though the event was accompanied by another Amazing Race staple: the crowd of mocking local spectators. Perhaps this is meant as a we're-not-so-different-after-all life lesson for viewers: No matter where you go in the world, no matter how primitive or advanced the culture, people always like to laugh at outsiders who try to master their traditions.)"
WHAT ELSE IS A FARM BOY FROM CANADA TO DO? On the eve of tonight's glorious #crushthecanucks (and ice dancing and other stuff) Olympic bonanza, Kevin Smith has revealed that Seann William Scott will play the lead role of Buddy in his film adaptation of Warren Zevon's "Hit Somebody." Said Smith:
I look at this as Seann's opportunity to go to the (Tom) Hanks level. Hanks for years and years did this (lesser) role and then he became that (blockbuster movie) guy. This is Seann's chance to do that as well, not just be Stifler. And it's my chance to not just be the "Clerks" guy. It's my chance to do something big, epic in scale. Stories I tell span one day. … This spans 30 years. You're talking a period. You're trying to bring people to a time in your life that hasn't existed in 30 years. The look of it, the feel of it, the sound of it -- everything I have is going to be in that movie.
Whatever of interest happens on ice and snow tonight, we can talk about it here.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN THE FIELD OF EXCELLENCE: The Writers' Guild of America honored its folks for year 2009 last night, and some interesting stuff:
  • Hurt Locker takes the original screenplay award over Avatar and Serious Man. Basterds, which is apparently getting a big push in the category for the Oscars, wasn't nominated by the WGA. Up In The Air takes adapted, and it's increasingly looking like that'll be its consolation prize on Oscar night.
  • Our friend Daniel Radosh shares a WGA award for his work on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, which tied with SNL in the comedy/variety writing category.
  • A tie for best comedy episode between the pilot of Modern Family (not "Fizbo?") and 30 Rock's "Apollo, Apollo." Family also takes best new series (over Glee and Good Wife), and 30 Rock best comedy.
  • Perhaps most interesting is that while House didn't make it into the overall drama series writing category (won by Mad Men), it picked up the win for best drama episode for this season's premiere with House in rehab (over a pair of Men episodes). Could be a sign that Laurie will finally win his much-overdue Emmy, especially since there's unlikely to be a strong Lost competitor in lead actor.
  • The Simpsons beat The Simpsons, The Simpsons, The Simpsons, and The Simpsons for outstanding animated writing. (Amusingly, though, Seth McFarlane hosted the West Coast festivities).
"AS HIGHLY ACCOMPLISHED A PROFICIENT IN THE CULINARY ART AS COULD BE FOUND IN THE UNITED STATES": The Philadelphia Inquirer invested considerable resources (and its printed front page) to allow Craig LaBan to tell the story of Hercules, George Washington's master chef -- and his slave. Great reading on a Sunday, with more to come tomorrow.