Saturday, March 5, 2011

NO MATTER HOW YOU SPELL IT, PAUL MCCARTNEY WON'T PLAY WITH THEM:  Slashfood and the United States Department of Agriculture explain why and under what circumstances a NestlĂ©-owned frozen pizza company (which is not delivery) can sell something called "wyngz" which contains no actual chicken wing meat.  Up next: spinach-free spynych?
LEONARD BERNSTEIN, LILLIAN HELLMAN, LENA HORNE, AND LES PAUL'S DEAD:  The Awl's J. Feindt ranks the 173 subjects of PBS's "American Masters" series in order of Americanness and mastery.

Friday, March 4, 2011

HELLO, I REALLY, REALLY MUST BE GOING NOW:  Citing a variety of health issues as well as his perception that listeners have grown sick of and "want to strangle" him, Phil Collins has announced his retirement from the music business. "It's hardly surprising that people grew to hate me. I'm sorry that it was all so successful. I honestly didn't mean it to happen like that," he says.

Out of respect, I will link to both his London and South Philadelphia performances of July 13, 1985, and link to, but not transcribe, the appropriate NSFW Patrick Bateman monologue.
DO YOU HAVE A SOUL? Very quickly, a remarkably accurate flowchart that helps you select the baseball team for which you should root.* (Link is currently broken; mirrored link here, thanks to Matt B.)

*Yeah, that's right, I said "for which." And I reworded the sentence so that I didn't have to wrestle with the question mark in the title. And for what it's worth, the main sentence of the post is a sentence fragment. Grammar in revolt! My grammar is revolting!
IN WHICH TOM COLICCHIO IS FORCED TO EMPLOY THE PURPLE ROCK OF DEATH: Without spoiling the conclusion of Wednesday's Top Chef All Stars, I can (I think) safely note that the elimination decision involved competitors at the tops of their culinary games, in which everyone acknowledged it was excruciating and unfair for anyone to have to lose. But competitions are competitions, and those who saw it understand what happened.

But I couldn't help but wonder: when has this happened before on other reality competitions, in which "we'd really hate to see someone go home" because it was so close and no one deserved to go home -- and then someone did.  First examples I can think of are Project Runway 1's final four (Jay-Kara Saun-Wendy-Austin, given that Wendy won the challenge), ANTM's final four in cycle two (Yoanna-Mercedes-Shandi-April), the Paschal-Neleh-Helen-Vecepia final four in Survivor 4, and the Jordin-Blake-Melinda final three on Idol 6.  And, of course, Tom and Ian on the buoys, which remains my favorite Survivor challenge of all precisely because both of them "deserved" to be in the final two, and neither of them was going to take the other into the final Tribal. Someone had to win, and someone had to lose.

(Which in turn reminds me why I love the Amazing Race so much - yes, they're all really good teams at the end. The finish mat is still the mat, and you really have to get there before the last team does.)
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO SPECIAL BONUS DOUBLE FEATURE:  Because today is National Grammar Day, I would like to provide incentives for everyone to celebrate it by including a second post on the topic today in addition to Isaac's inquiry. Perhaps one way is to note that "to provide incentives" sure seems to take up an awful lot of words, and, gosh, wouldn't it be nice to reduce it to one word -- hey, how about incent or incentivize?

"KILL ME A SON!," GOD SAID TO ABRAHAM. "WHAT?," ASKED ABRAHAM, "YOU MUST BE PUTTIN' ME ON." "YOU DO WHAT YOU WANT TO, BUT NEXT TIME I SEE YOU, YOU BETTER RUN!," REPLIED GOD. "WHERE DO YOU WANT THIS KILLING DONE?," ASKED ABRAHAM. Saddle up, grammar cowboys, the Friday Grammar Rodeo is starting. Which of these passages is correct, and which are mispunctled?
  1. "How much," she said. "For three hundred dollars I'll do it."
  2. "Is something wrong?" she said. Of course there is. "You're still alive!" she said. Oh, do I deserve to be?
  3. "There must be some kind of way out of here!," said the joker to the thief.
We know that punctuation belongs inside the quotation marks, unless you have the misfortune of being born in England. The dilemma is what to do with the punctuation if you are following the quotation with an attribution -- "he said"; "she asked"; "they shouted in unison." Ordinarily, it's not a problem -- we just drop the period and put a comma before the close-quote. But if we want to employ a question mark or an exclamation point (assume the propriety of the latter), then what? Omit, question mark/exclamation point only, or the weird double-punctuation thing with the mark/point followed by a comma?

The Orange Bible, perhaps surprisingly, thinks that #3 above is the way to go: "The sixteenth edition of CMOS recommends using a comma after a question mark if it would normally be required." This looks the most wrong to me, and consensus at ALOTT5MA HQ is that #2 is the best option. Are we wrong?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

SHE IS TELLING THEM HER INTENTIONS AS TO WHETHER SHE WILL BE GOING:  Twenty-four entered the IdolDome tonight; only 13 now retain hopes of becoming Your Next American Idol.  Fienberg has the recap, and we hope to be adding some analysis from a welcome source.
HOW I MET THE CRITICS: I am shocked, shocked that a romcom written by, directed by and starring HIMYM's Josh Radnor could be described by critics as "insufferable," "looks and sounds like a flop pilot for a television," "nothing of substance," "implausible, cutesy-poo," "sentimental," "preposterous," "tepid," "relentlessly cheery," "reeks of desperation"  (NYT); "like a sitcom, but without the burning narrative urgency," "the epitome of 'indie,' and not in a good way," "gives new meaning to self-indulgence and self-infatuation," "audiences will be taking sides depending on what coast they don't live on," "the characters are uniformly annoying, their stories insubstantial and the tone one of smug contentment" (Variety); "twee," "problematic," "horribly disjointed," "the film's principal project is to trade in questionable racial characterization as a catalyst for its white protag's personal fulfillment" (Slant); and "treating their problems like they're the most important crises in the world is what people in their 20s do, but that doesn't mean we have to go along for the ride" (LA Times).
RASPBERRY VERSUS POP POP! Five uses of balloons in video game promotions that are better than THQ's stupid stunt yesterday:
  1. Fill balloons with copies of Call of Juarez and pay people to swallow them and cross the border
  2. Hire a spokesmodel to wear a suit of branded balloons and strip them off by popping them, combining the retro-seductive art of burlesque with America's second-most-popular PTSD trigger
  3. Use them to make farting noises; these farting noises are brought to you by THQ
  4. Hand two balloons to potential customer; when both of customer's hands are occupied, punch him in the face and shout "our prices will knock you out!"
  5. Build a balloon raft and row it into the bay to retrieve balloons from last promotion
GLASSWORTS: There is an obvious question about last night's Top Chef All Stars, which for spoiler reasons I'll ask below the fold.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

HE'S NOT A NUMBER: If there's an element of tonight's Survivor which wasn't wholly satisfying, I'm going to ignore it. It started with a Redemption Island challenge stolen from the Brady Bunch episode with Jim Backus in the ghost town on the way to the Grand Canyon, flowed through what happened with the HIIs and the immunity challenge, and ended with another graduate-level course in strategery at Tribal.  If you missed seeing purple rocks on the show or wondered whether Survivor could be improved by having a weasel-y Sarah Silverman lookalike as a Russell Hantz factotum, well, you even got that too.  This is a season worth your time.
I DON'T EVEN THINK HAVING BARRY SCHECK IS A GOOD ENOUGH DEFENSE HERE:  For the crime of attempting an ill-advised big band reinterpretation of a Fiona Apple tune, Rachel Zevita's one of many singers likely headed home tonight. Honestly, only Pia Toscano's powerful "I'll Stand By You" and Lauren Alaina's flirty "Turn on the Radio" impressed me tonight above the pageant-ready performances we generally saw (and over which the judges fawned excesively). I'm kinda intrigued by Lauren Turner, and I assume Thia Megia survives based on narratively-apt song selection, but that's about it.  Unlike the men, I have minimal confidence about how this is going to play out tomorrow.
THOUGHTS ON A PROMOTION: At 12:30 this afternoon, thousands of red balloons filled the sky above San Francisco.

Me: That looks kind of cool.
San Franciscans generally: I do not see what you are talking about because when I am outside I look only at my iPhone and whatever you're talking about has not yet hit my Twitter feed.
San Francisco: I do not recall issuing a permit for this.
Sanitation Worker: Fuck.
Bird: Choke.
Me: I wonder what this is a promotion for.
Marketer: Yes!
Balloon: Being unmarked, I will not tell you.
Marketer: Oops.
Me: Looked cooler two minutes ago when the balloons were in the sky, not on the ground and in the bay.
Fish: Choke.
REALISTICALLY SPEAKING, YOU DO NOT F*** WITH A SPECIES THAT CAN DO THAT: Given Das Boot, there is no movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen I won't pay full freight to see. Given 2005's science fiction masterwork Old Man's War, there is no John Scalzi novel I won't buy in hardcover. That Paramount bought OMW for Petersen to direct makes me a very very happy movie goer.
I JUST THINK IT NEEDED A LITTLE BIT MORE OF AN IMPROVISATIONAL, WE-JUST-DID-IT-THIS-WEEK KIND OF FEELING: New editor Hugo Lindgren talks up more of the changes starting in this week's NYT Magazine. Among those which will delight: instead of Cooking with Dexter (and others), three Mark Bittman columns a month (and one from Sam Sifton).  Also: Nate Silver sneaks in once a month, and, yes, Dr. Lisa Sanders's "Diagnosis" stays.  This may not suck.

added: Just unveiled -- The 6th Floor, the Magazine's new blog.
THEIR FIRST QUESTION IS NOT "WILL IT BE GOOD?" BUT "CAN IT BE SOLD?" Writing for GQ, Mark Harris laments Hollywood's cautious attitude in an essay titled "The Day The Movies Died." Two paragraphs to whet your interest:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TONIGHT, (DON'T) LET IT BE LOEWENSTERN:  What's noteworthy to me about tonight's Idol semifinals is what didn't change -- same lame backdrops and Muzak-leaning orchestrations, same Seacrest, same overall feeling that we're watching a variety show and not a legitimate search for the next contemporary pop superstar.  Same show, same type of songs and performances, only with different judges -- this was not the reinvention of Idol.

But what did change was mostly nice: fewer judges means more time for each to speak (Randy: critical! helpful!), and a 90 minute running time for twelve performers meant a briskly-paced, largely bullshit-free show.  Thanks, Nigel!  What I didn't like, though, was that immediately putting the performers on the big stage and not the comfier semifinals-in-the-round may have prevented some of them from finding their stagecraft sea legs, and some of them seemed a bit lost up there.  So, then, some initial tiers:

I CAN'T EVEN LOOK MRS. BUTTERWORTH IN THE EYE: In honor of National Pancake Day, Buzzfeed hooks you up with quality SFW pancake porn.
DERE CAN BE ONLY WAN: Hulu is running a March Madness-style bracket of the best shows on TV (guest critic: Alan Sepinwall), and the opening round has begun. I kind of hate the way that they've matched shows that are thematically or demographically similar, because it often forces me to vote against shows I like while voting for shows I don't watch, but I suppose that it makes for more interesting pairings. Some of the early returns are interesting, though early returns probably overcount depth of love relative to breadth.

Your homework, which appears to be the argument Hulu wants to provoke: make a cogent argument for why Glee is better than Friday Night Lights.
BETWEEN THIS AND JENNIFER LAWRENCE'S OSCAR DRESS, A COMEBACK IS CLEARLY COMING: As part of our continuing quest to note when the NYT makes strange cultural references, we note that today's edition features, in the lead of a 1A article, a reference to Baywatch Nights, the X-Files inspired spinoff of Baywatch.
IT STILL HAS ALMOST AS MUCH PLOT CONTINUITY AS A NORMAL EPISODE:In an effort to milk a few more bucks out of girls at slumber parties, the producers of Glee are releasing a Season 1 DVD that's nothing but two hours of the musical numbers from season one, without the annoying talking or plot. It's heavily focused on kid-driven numbers ("Alone," "Gold Digger," the "Don't Stand So Close To Me" mashup, and "Vogue" are the only adult-driven songs), and short on Matthew Morrison rapping, which is probably a good thing.
SOMEONE WHO KNOWS HOW TO USE HIS MOUTH: Thank goodness I was reminded, in the midst of watching pieces of Sheen flotsam and jetsam wash up on CNN's shore last night, that No Reservations was back on-air and, indeed, Bourdain in Haiti is well worth your time.

In order to remain one step ahead of the game, I should let you know that Sepinwall (and others) have raved about tonight's arc-closing Good Wife, and tonight on Idol the top 12 guys perform in the semifinals (ladies, tomorrow), with 24 becoming 13 on Thursday, so do enter our fantasy league now.  Song spoilers are available for both XY and XX night and, um, good luck with that one, Opera Girl. (Seriously, there has never been as pressure-filled a week as this on the show, with an almost 50% chance of elimination this early. Top five of each get voted ahead, plus three wild cards.)

Monday, February 28, 2011

IF HE HAD ONLY DONE THE HISTORY OF RAP WITH TIMBERLAKE, DAYENU: The latest Ben and Jerry's flavor is the Jimmy Fallon-inspired Late Night Snack -- "Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with a Salty Caramel Swirl & Fudge Covered Potato Chip Clusters." According to one reviewer, "it's good, incredibly good, if Jesus Christ were coming to dinner this might be dessert good."  Also coming soon: Red Velvet Cake and Clusterfluff.
I THOUGHT SHE CHEATED EVERY TEST, AND SNORTED ALL THE YAY:  The NYT Science page on Natalie Portman, Hedy (not Hedley) Lamarr, and other Hollywood stars with serious science cred.  Unfortunately, they missed a certain star with a master's in chemical engineering; who speaks English, Swedish, Spanish, some German, some French, some Japanese, and some Italian; and who was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to MIT back in the day. Yes, gang: Dolph Lundgren.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MR. ELTON JOHN will be hosting and musical-guesting SNL on April 2, his first involvement with the show since 1982. (The only older hosts in recent years: Betty White, Robert DeNiro, John McCain, and Christopher Walken.)

Your hosts for the next two weeks are  Miley Cyrus (y'all) followed by the return of Zach Galifianakis.
A MEMO FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE ACADEMY: Congratulations on being selected to host the Oscars. Just wanted to go over the ground rules with you:

For men hosting the Oscars:
  • Most important rule: be funny
  • But don't forget whose party this is, so no jokes that might be interpreted as being directed toward or inspired by anybody in the audience or any friends of people in the audience
  • This includes any jokes about alcoholism, drug addiction, anti-semitism, prostitutes, infidelity, promiscuity, divorce, poor parenting skills, greed, vanity, intelligence, temper, talent, has-been-ism, or made-up religions
  • Also, don't forget that this is a television show designed to appeal to the widest possible potential audience
  • So no jokes about sex, politics, other religions, or world events
  • Try to focus on jokes that would make your granddad laugh
  • Pretend your granddad was a Catskills comedian
  • But less racist
  • For example, dressing up like a lady is never not funny
  • Because the gays are funny
  • But don't say anything about the gays
  • Also maybe something about how old-timey baseball films are all sped-up
  • Exactly like Billy Crystal except with the kind of sex appeal that will get the teens to watch is what I'm saying
  • And just be yourself
For women hosting the Oscars:
  • Smile
  • Diet
  • Wear a bunch of dresses
  • Don't slap anybody who cops a feel
That's it. Enjoy! Also, if you violate these rules you'll be blackballed.


Tom Sherak
President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
THE QUEST FOR THE NEXT SUNDANCE HEAD: Rather than form our own, please join me in entering -- and then dominating -- the What's Alan Watching? league in the HitFix American Idol fantasy contest.

As I noted on Alan's blog, the question is whether all the structural changes -- new judges, Jimmy Iovine, Bieber Rule, Facebook voting and the "you can stay within your genre" theme weeks to come -- will be meaningful enough to overcome a voting audience which likes its Unthreatening White Boys With Guitars Who Seem To Improve During The Competition very much, thank you.
MASSACRE ON EIGHTH AVENUE:  Wow. Yesterday was the final NYT Magazine for Randy Cohen (12 years), Amanda Hesser (5 years)Virginia Heffernan (4 years), and, barely a month after the debut of the ALOTT5MA Friday Grammar Rodeo, the On Language column (32 years). Ariel Kaminer will replace Cohen at The Ethicist desk, Edith Zimmerman from The Hairpin is getting a column and Fametracker/NYMag's Adam Sternbergh is on board as culture editor.  Also, if you didn't notice, Deborah Solomon has been condensed and edited for the last time.
I DON'T HAVE ANY DEEPER ISSUES. I LIKE TO KEEP THINGS RIGHT ON THE SURFACE:  The NYT's David Carr -- a former addict himself (as he alludes to in the piece) -- wonders why a corporate America which otherwise takes abuse and harassment of women seriously looks the other way when it comes to Charlie Sheen.

added:  Sheen spoke on some of the morning shows today.  To ABC News, he said, "I got tiger blood, man. My brain….fires in a way that is -- I don't know, maybe not from this particular terrestrial realm."

Poniewozik: "[T]here's a sad sense of overcompensating in Sheen's bragging. 'I won Best Picture at 20,' he said. 'Wasn't even trying.' (For the record, he was in Platoon; the movie won Best Picture, actors do not.) All the glory-days references, the Top Gun and F-18 imagery—there's this sense of Sheen as the guy who was once almost Tom Cruise, then wasn't."

Sunday, February 27, 2011


added, Monday AM:  I'm struck in retrospect -- as I noted during the liveblog -- at the oddness of a show that claimed to be reaching for the young/hip demographic which failed to include the current generation of comic film actors among its presenters. Where were Seth Rogen, Jack Black, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, any Wilson (or Wayans) brother, Paul Rudd, Michael Cera, Leslie Mann, Tyler Perry or Zach Galifianakis? Were they even in the audience? If you want a lively show, have lively people on the stage.  I don't care how young Cate Blanchett, Jake Gyllenhaal or Hugh Jackman are -- a ceremony with them on the dais will feel old.