Friday, March 12, 2010

AARON STAMPLER'S BLUES: So what did I think about the Idol eliminations last night of Alex Lambert, Todrick Hall, Katelyn Epperly and Lilly Allen Scott?

I mean, obviously it was bullshit -- four other contestants could have more credibly been eliminated (Aaron, Tim, Paige and Lacey) -- but most bullshit Idol decisions are less confounding than this one was because none of the eliminated four were overtly bad this week, instead ranging from misguided (Todrick) to unmemorable (Katelyn, Lilly) to outright good (Alex). And it wasn't a whitey thing either -- though they eliminated the wrong minority this time.

[Incidentally -- Alan, Dan and I prehashed the expected elimination of Andrew Garcia and tried to determine who the previous biggest flameout during the semis was compared to hype/expectations coming out of Hollywood, and settled on Sundance Head and Asia'h Epperson with neither even being close to what an Garcia ouster would have represented.]

So what happened here? It's not enough to say that "it's better to be actively bad than unmemorable" -- because the former encourages defenders' voting while the latter may not -- though it might apply to the ladies more than the men. I think a more crucial factor is that the judges' contradictory advice -- be more original! find out who you are! be as good as you were when you did "Straight Up," only not exactly like that again! -- not only confused the contestants but the voting public as well.

Remember what the big complaint was about 2009: overmanipulation by the judges to obtain the final 13 they wanted. That, though, was based on a semis in which each semifinalist only had one chance to be voted on by the public, and thus profile packages in the audition rounds carried more weight. But this was the third week in which everyone performed, so that wasn't the likely problem.

But undermanipulation can be just as much of a concern. Simon, in particular, has demonstrated in the past a power to preserve folks whom he knows are good enough to remain in the competition, even when they've had subpar weeks. The general incoherence of the panel and -- I hate to acknowledge this -- the absence of a Paula Abdul as a guaranteed supportive voice may have removed the balm that these performers needed.

All of which is to say that I have no answer here yet, but maybe we can come to some incompletely theorized agreement by the end of this. At a minimum, let's go back to Theory #1 -- The Tiers: "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."

Could any of these four have won? Honestly, I was all set to declare Alex Lambert as my sleeper candidate for 2010 -- he had the talent, but just needed to grow as a performer. So, yes, that was particularly irksome. But the other three weren't going to win this -- not even Lilly, given Crystal Bowersox's superior version of the same thing.

We've got our twelve. Let's see how badly America screws this up until Crystal or Siobhan is eliminated in the final three. Our predictions: next week, with The Music of the Rolling Stones.

[Sorry about the delay in posting this. Blame Moby. For real.]
A NIGHT OF COMEDY, HUGGING, AND THE OCCASIONAL AWKWARD SILENCE; HOLD THE MUSIC: I have little to say about last night's comedy block, but didn't want it to go unlauded. I'll limit my comment to the comedy goldmine that is Ron Swanson's wood shop. Mark commented on the oily rags atop the wood-burning stove, but neglected to mention the immediately adjacent propane tank, and there seemed to be layers and layers of safety-hazard gags jostling for attention.

Also, I covet Ron Swanson's extensive array of well-stored clamps. Realism in the background of a one-episode set often isn't a priority on half-hour comedies, so I appreciate that somebody -- be it somebody in set design, set construction, or expert woodworker Offerman himself -- was there to ensure that the woodworker's clamp fetish was accurately represented. You really can't ever have enough clamps.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A NIGHT OF MUSIC, COMEDY, HUGGING, AND THE OCCASIONAL AWKWARD SILENCE: Team CoCo rejoice, as "The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour" is on, with tickets already on sale. Amusingly, his LA date is at the Gibson Amphitheater, which was almost adjacent to his old studio.

ETA: One downer? While I expect there will be a band, no Max Weinberg.
#7 - ROBERT TOWNSEND: Writer/cultural critic Toure, in a series of Wednesday tweets (reformatted for clarity):
I want to do a list of the top Black stand-up comedians since 1970 but the ranking seems obvious. I doubt many would quibble with this...

1 Pryor, 2 Cosby, 3 Rock, 4 Murphy, 5 Mooney, 6 Chappelle.

I put Rock over Murphy bc of Rock's political brilliance & ability to create lots of memes that live beyond his routines.

The two big quibbles are Rock over Murphy and Cosby's high position. Let me explain my thoughts. This is all obviously subjective. Rock over Murphy bc Rock's political brilliance puts him into the Black comic as philosopher slash shadow politician while Murphy is hysterical and a better storyteller and character mimic than Rock, his not being political on the mic slips him behind CR. Rock has lots of lines and memes that live in the culture and get repeated by politicos, MCs, & street thinkers. Murphy doesn't.

As for Cosby, I don't have to defend him being #2. If you suggest s'one's ahead of him you're saying 'I'm young!' Study your Cos!

A comic's 1st job is to make you laugh but the Black comics' potential to make you think is important historically. Some Black comics said important social things the rest of us couldn't/wouldn't. The Black comedic potential for social impact is large. To be a Black comic and not say thought-provoking things is to leave some of your social or intellectual potential at the door.
The question about Murphy is how much era-adjustment is appropriate given the misogyny and homophobia there was in his early-80s routine compared to contemporary standards. But other than that, I'm fine with Toure's list.

[Comedy Central had that top four in its top ten of all-time standups, with Rock and Cosby flipped in position, and Martin Lawrence ahead of the latter two.]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SHEL TURTLESTEIN: How many times can we recount the ways in which Modern Family takes standard sitcom plots and infuses them with awesomeness? Okay, so maybe we need to talk a little about Mitchell's failure to appreciate what it means to be an attorney, but otherwise this show is sticking its landings on every move it attempts.

Let me instead focus on this: if Rico Rodriguez II doesn't get an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor - Comedy for his work as Manny, there will be hell to pay. That kid takes preposterous dialogue and sells it, week after week. He is adorable without being overly precocious and utterly plausible in his wise-beyond-his-years-ness. If this world is just, his name will be in the same category as Eric Stonestreet, Rainn Wilson and Neil Patrick Harris when the ballots go out.
IT'S HARD ON A MAN; NOW HIS PART IS OVER: On whom will the Idol Axe fall tomorrow night? I think we've got three men who are no-question safe, a fourth and fifth likely safe based on cumulative good will, and the other three are up to you, America. Starting from the top:

Big Mike: Hot damn -- a pimp slot earned on "This Woman's Work." Perfect song selection. Emotional delivery. Wow. (Bush, Maxwell.)

Casey: Exudes star quality. A solid performer who's not going to have trouble until he's forced into genres which require more, um, singing. It'll be very interesting to see what the producers start throwing at the kids this year, because they've had no constraints thus far.

Alex: I really liked his phrasing on "Trouble" (a/k/a Bill Simmons' least favorite song until he heard "Use Somebody"), but I've got to tell you I'm getting an Aaron Stampler vibe from him and I think we'll see Roy before this competition is over.

Ad for Iron Man 2: It did its thing. Just the right level of Garry Shandling. Cheadle!

Lee: Please don't sing about 10 million fireflies; real songs only have one-hundredth as many fireflies. Odd song, performed safely.

Andrew: Okay, I'm thinking now he's more Kim Jong-Il than Lea Delaria, but it's a close call. He was trying so hard to repeat "Straight Up" that it felt like a gimmick, derivative of himself and a performance he's done a hundred times before. A potential flameout of alexisgracean speed.

Todrick: I very much want him to succeed on this show, but his "Somebody to Love"was all over the place. Ambitious, but it didn't work. As Dan writes, "Todrick the Entertainer doesn't have nearly the voice necessary to do this song without an arrangement that turns every single triple jump into a singe. Sorry. I have to get figure skating out of my head." But Freddie Mercury is near-impossible to do right, and he didn't.

Tim: You don't know what that song is about. Don't sing it. I'm upset we didn't axe you from this competition when we had the chance, and now you've picked a song guaranteed to give you enough votes to survive. Ellen, don't encourage him!

Aaron: Do. Not. Like. Thank you, Kara.
COME ON BARBIE LET'S GO PARTY AND THEN PITCH A CLIENT: Barbie Doll versions of Don Draper, Roger Cooper, Betty Draper (or is it Francis?), and, yes, Joan Holloway are set to hit store shelves soon, retailing for $74.95 each. While the Betty Draper doll, right down to the range of emotion, is a spitting image of January Jones, I fear Joan fans will be disappointed by her likeness' lack of, err, oomph.

So, now that the inevitable licensing of Mad Men has begun, what other Mad Men products are you looking forward to seeing soon? Me, I want a Pete Campbell urinating decal for my rear window, a Ben and Jerry's flavor of chocolate and table salt named for Betty's dad, and Kraft Mac and Cheese with fun Mad Men shapes like a pack of smokes, a whiskey bottle, a hotel room key, a riding mower, and a jai alai cesta.
CUE THE SADDER TROMBONE: Corey Haim, the seemingly lesser of the parallel cautionary child-star Corey tales, is dead at 38. I would not have bet on Feldman to outlast him.
CUE THE SAD TROMBONE: Bob Barker, back in the day.
SO ARE YOU, LIKE, AN ANDROID? VAMPIRE? Apparently there was something wrong with my satellite dish, because tonight I sat down to watch Lost, but it kept switching to the sledgehammery serious parts of Glee.

Look, I haven't complained at all about the flash-sidewayses. But now I'm going to start. Whether the show is giving us alternative stories of redemption or failure, the show lets us calculate their vectors only by reference to the doings on the island. And I'm beginning to wonder, do those moments in the alternative 2004 even count if the characters don't know that they're righting wrongs or betraying trusts? The flash-sidewayses are starting to feel hermetically sealed from all of the hard decisions, the loyalties forged and broken, the opportunities squandered on the island, and without something to span both sets of stories, the mainland tales feel like they're shrinking. Tonight's Lost was not a tale of two Bens -- it was about Ben on the island and some unrelated small man with a comparatively small dilemma on the mainland.

Meanwhile, I admire the virtuoso stupidity of Jack's interrogation technique.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

SKYSCRAPERS ARE SCRAPING TOGETHER: Architect Bruce Graham has died. If that name escapes you, next time you are in Chicago all you need to do is look up to be reminded of his legacy.
MAKE A WISH, TAKE A CHANCE, MAKE A CHANGE: In a week in which there seemed to be no rules on song selection and the Amazing Idol Dual Camera returned in full effect, few chances were taken by the women during a largely competent, but only once-inspiring evening. Who delivered the goods? Duh.

Crystal: Has now delivered the best two performances in the semifinals, male or female. Great, impassioned phrasing on "Give Me One Reason," and I loved every moment of it. (Which means that she won't win the whole thing, but pencil her in until May.)

Certainly Good Enough
Siobhan: "House of the Rising Sun" should never feel rushed like this, and her delivery felt a little safe -- there's a roughness one should hear in the vocals to this song which was missing. But, still, she's rightfully a lock. This is the performer Gina Glocksen wanted to be on Idol.

Katie: hit the notes of Kelly Clarkson's "Breakaway," but as Ellen properly noted DeGarmoBot 2.0 lacked the passion to sell it. Still, over the course of the evening and especially when paired with last week, she's someone I want to see remain in the competition.

Played It Safe In An Unsafe Week
Katelyn: competent, but as Kara said not competing. As Dan Fienberg wrote, too much of this week was the musical equivalent of a prevent defense.

Lilly: It was ... I dunno. I don't get it. (Sepinwall does.) If she didn't look like that, would we care?

Didi: Oh, there was a bad note there in the middle of "Rhiannon" which made me cringe. Didi hasn't shown me enough, honestly, and between her and Katelyn I'd rather have the former.

Pack Your Bags, and Not in the "Tyra Says We're Going To Milan!" Way
Lacey: sharp and weird. Please stop looking at me like that.

Paige: "Smile" is a song that can be performed a lot of ways. Just not this one, and just like Gina Glocksen (and this was sub-Glocksen) (I'm almost over -- no more Glocksen references tonight) it'll make for an ironic farewell song tomorrow. Nothing Paige has shown us in three weeks suggests she should still be in this competition.
HO HO HO, MIGHTY CHEWBACCA:Yes, the words "Jabba The Hutt" fit perfectly with the meter of the theme to Parks and Rec. (Funnier if "and Ron Swanson" were added into the credits, though.)
SANDINISTA!: Via BoingBoing, I note that you can download all of The Sandinista Project - covers of all 36 tracks of The Clash's Sandinista! - for free right here. Through Sunday.

Monday, March 8, 2010

AND I AM TELLING YOU I PROBABLY WILL NOT BE GOING: Beloved former Idol semifinalist (and Brookfield, Conn. native) Nick "Norman Gentle" Mitchell talks to his local paper about being Wendy Williams' Idol correspondent for her tv show and, more importantly for our purposes:
I got called to do a show in Las Vegas and it will be a four-month show. I'm not allowed to say the casino yet, but it's going to be with two "Idol" winners and a couple of finalists, and I'm just going to be hosting it.
Can I bet cash money that the two former winners prepared to commit to four months in Vegas are Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard? Fantasia's touring nationally with The Color Purple, and I'd have to think Clarkson, Underwood, Sparks, Cook and Allen are way too successful to take such a step now.
AFTER LAST NIGHT, THE REAL CONCERN IS WHETHER THEY'LL CREATE A MAJOR NEW ROLE FOR SCOTT HATTEBERG'S STRONG-WILLED, SHARP-TONGUED MOM: Replacing the previously cast Demetri Martin, Jonah Hill will play Oakland assistant general manager Paul DePodesta opposite Brad Pitt's Billy Beane in the film adaptation of Michael Lewis' Moneyball, which is still being revised by Aaron Sorkin.
JOHNNY WEIR, YOU'RE MY ONLY HOPE: We may have to, yet again, close the books early on our annual Least Surprising News of the Year award, with today's shocking, shocking news that Sean Hayes is, in fact, gay.
IMMA LET YOU FINISH:Via Linda Holmes, Salon explains the "Kanye Moment" during last night's Best Documentary Short presentation--it's the product of a feud between the female producer and the producer/director and involves accusations of being tripped by a cane.
YO, TEACH: Mock Tony Danza all you want, but it's hard not to like him a little more after reading this Inq profile on how his teaching stint at Northeast High is going.

(My July 2009 item announcing this A&E reality project is here.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010


added, 12:18 am: Well, that was a night of firsts -- not only Bigelow's win (obviously), but the first-ever wins for African Americans in any screenwriting (Geoffrey Fletcher, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire) or directing (Roger Ross Williams, best documentary short for Music by Prudence) category, though in the latter case I forget whether the award technically is for the film itself, its director or the producer -- and Williams was the latter two here.

As for the show itself, the hosts were adequate, and I'm a big fan of spending this much time on the nominated films and performances at the expense of the songs and minor categories. Just, please, axe the interpretive dance!

Our live chat remains archived below the fold. Thanks to so many of you for showing up -- we had a blast.
WHAT'S UP WITH THAT? in case you missed it, Zach Galifianakis' chin made a rare appearance in the final sketch of last night's SNL (and oddly, it, or a reasonable facsimile of the facial hair reappeared for the goodbyes and thank yous). Overall, the episode had a few highlights (the now impossible to resist WUWT? with guests Paul Rudd, Frank Rich and you know who, the bidet sketch, the monologue, and Zach Drops by the Set) and too many lowlights (the Obama opener, the kissing family, the Today Show). Still it was nice to see SNL hosted for once by an actual funny person. Next up is the always hi-larious Jude Law. Here's the backstage video. See Zach shave!
HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD: As a reminder, our annual Oscars liveblog starts at around 8:15 pm tonight. (The show itself starts at 8:30p.) Please join us for the festivities, the necrology, and all the insensitive polling and random snark that this community can muster.

added: Linda Holmes reviews the ten nominees for Best Picture.
BOWLING SPERM: Two reflections on last night's television viewing.

First: What a movie Grease 2 could have been had Adam Shankman been in a position to direct!

Second: Parenthood has some potential. Admittedly, the casting of both Peter Krause and Lauren Graham puts the show squarely in my sweet spot, so I am predisposed to give it a shot. The pilot is not troublefree: Graham's first few scenes have an odd flavor of her melancholy Adelaide about them, which made the whole thing kind of clunky, and I'm not sure at all that I buy her as a member of this particular family. (Maura Tierney would have fit into the family better, but talk about an actress with irresolvable melancholy . . .) I am also having trouble overcoming visions of Michael Douglas breaking down a door to reveal a strung-out Erika Christensen naked on a crackhouse bed every time the lawyer sister hits the screen. Oh, and I am bracing myself for the inevitable outcry concerning the show's depiction of Asperger's. But I loved the scene where Graham stormed out of the Chinese restaurant upon realizing what her sister thought her dating prospects were; Crosby's line about losing himself in sport provided some hope that the writers understand my need for catchy patter; and did I mention that Graham and Krause are involved?