Saturday, February 11, 2012

SO EMOTIONAL:  The Associated Press is reporting that Whitney Houston has died at the age of 48.  Cause of death is unknown at this time, but given what we've learned through the years we can presume some things, which would make this news shocking, but sadly not surprising.

Think about what it takes to have a voice so gifted to make one's rendition of the National Anthem the definitive one, to have scores of American Idol contestants' efforts compared to her heights, a catalog of hits so deep that had her career ended before "I Will Always Love You" she would still be thought of as the premier R&B singer of her generation.

What tremendous talents. What a damn shame.

added:  Sasha Frere-Jones. "With the weird blend of investment and helplessness that typifies kin, we’ve watched Whitney Houston die in front of us, slowly and unmistakably, for more than a decade.... Considering how many times Houston confronted her own addiction in public, her end confirms that the pull of addiction can be stronger than the pull of dignity."
AARON BURR, REJECTED. I HOPE HE DOESN'T SEE IT AS A SLIGHT ON HIS HONOR: Following up on our previous item, the 2012 inductees into the New Jersey Hall of Fame include the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, house-rocking, earth-shaking, booty-quaking, Viagra-taking, love-making, legendary E Street Band; former Giants owner Wellington Mara (Rooney's grandpa, who curiously never lived in New Jersey); Campbell’s condensed soup inventor John Dorrance; Annie Oakley; Joyce Carol Oates; Sarah Vaughan; Michael Douglas (whose "entire New Jersey tenure may have been in diapers," the article notes); and Christopher Reeve.
CAREER ERA: 3.46. THACO: 11: Curt Schilling's swords and sorcery RPG, Kingdoms of Amalur, has released to surprisingly strong reviews.

When one considers the personnel behind the Amalur product, the strength shouldn't be surprising at all. Salvatore for lore. McFarlane for looks. Morrowind/Oblivion and EverQuest vets for quests and world building. Yes, that should work. And yet, since I first heard about Schilling's 38 Studios, maybe 18 months ago, I have been braced for disappointment rather than tingling with anticipation. Somehow, the idea that a notoriously serious and successful person from the notoriously serious world of baseball had a long-standing and yes, serious, interest in fantasy gaming, one of my guilty pleasures, and was diving in with some of his millions to create the games he'd always wanted to play as a fan ... well, it seemed like great PR, and so it had to be too good to be true. Right? Wrong, apparently. And it's hard to quantify how gratifying it is to be wrong. 3d6+3, at least.

Really, this could not come at a better time. Many RPG-dependent escapists are hitting the long tail of potential returns from further investment of time in Skyrim, and as the highs become progressively lower and the minutes spent in game searching for overlooked side quests or investigating theories about leveling mechanics feel more and more completely wasted, we're nervously eying The Old Republic and wondering if we can really afford to go back to an MMO (the hard stuff) for a fresh fix. A well-made, relatively wide-open RPG from a new market entrant is just the thing to keep the neurons humming.

Friday, February 10, 2012

  1. Comets
  2. Isotopes
  3. Blue Caps
  4. Blue Crabs
  5. Crickets
  6. Sand Gnats
  7. Famous Flames
  8. Thunderbolts
  9. Midnighters
  10. Knights
  11. Miracles
  12. Miracle

The odd numbered answers are the Hall of Famers, having been given that honor years after their more recognizable front men (Bill Haley, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, James Brown, Hank Ballard, and Smokey Robinson, respectably) were enshrined. Finally there's a ray of hope for the Waves, Beaters and Cruisers.

ONE LESS FEWER REASON TO WATCH THE GRAMMYS: You don't have to wait until Sunday to find out whether Adele can still bring it. What do you think, Karl?
NOT THE BEES! Nicolas Cage would like to clarify that he is not, in fact, a time-traveling vampire. He still has not commented on whether or not he is actually a giant puppet.
I JUST WANT A CRUCIFICTORIOUS COVER OF "500 CANDLES IN THE WIND:" Ken Tremendous has already proclaimed it "the greatest thing that could ever happen" --a mashup of Parks and Recreation and Friday Night Lights, called, naturally, "Clear Eyes, Full Parks, Can't Lose!"
ON MY BIRTHDAY YOU SANG ME "HEART OF GOLD" WITH A GUITAR HUMMING AND NO CLOTHES:  The 54th Grammy Awards are Sunday night, and as Steven Hyden argues today (as I've long maintained) that "the reason why the Grammys are worth watching has nothing to do with awards"; indeed, he says, ignore the awards themselves and just enjoy a "lean, rapidly moving cavalcade of non-stop performances only occasionally broken up by awards."  Indeed, in the course of three hours only ten of the 78 awards will be presented live, leaving much time for such segments as a Beach Boys/Foster the People/Maroon 5 mashup and The Band Perry and Blake Shelton playing with Glen Campbell.

Still, it's Friday.  We do Friday playlists here on occasion. Recommend something among the nominees that we ought to hear.

added trivia: Fifty years ago in the Grammys, Record & Song of the Year both went to "Moon River" (beating, among others, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five"; Philly Pops leader Peter Nero was the Best New Artist; Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall was Album of the Year; and Leonard Bernstein's Peter and the Wolf won Best Children's Recording. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying won Best Cast Album (and it can again in 2012); Nichols and May won for Best Comedy Recording; and there was only one award each in the Country & Western, Rhythm & Blues, and Rock genres, the latter two of which was won by Ray Charles for "Hit the Road Jack," and Chubby Checker for "Let's Twist Again."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

REQUIRED COURSE MATERIALS -- FLINT: The Daily Northwestern pays a visit to Professor Max Dawson's course RTVF 330: The Tribe Has Spoken: Surviving TV's New Reality:
The course's first half, as described by Dawson, is concerned with "the political economy of television in the post-network, post-TiVo universe." Students study the changes taking place within the television industry during the ‘90s that made the market ripe for the reign of reality television....

The course's other endeavor – to entrench students in a real-stakes game of "Survivor" – explains the crowded mid-size lecture hall. For the first half of the class, Dawson's castaways were divided into four tribes, named for the professor's favorite "Survivor" seasons, and as tribes, students were expected to compete against each other for immunity. Immunity challenges, or weekly group quizzes, bring both tangible and academic rewards, from Starbucks coffee and hot chocolate to the ultimate prize – a pass on Dawson's midterm exam. Dawson even buried a Hidden Immunity Idol, a "Survivor" standby, on campus, and leaks clues via Twitter. And any students who abuse computer privileges in class are sent to Exile Island.
And from that course website:
Learning Objectives. After taking this class, students will be equipped to:
  • Critically analyze popular reality TV programs and formats
  • Explain the relationship between the reality TV boom of the last decade and broader developments within the American and global media industries
  • Participate in debates on the impact of reality TV on American culture
  • Backstab, lie, cheat, bamboozle, and hornswoggle
I may have added one of the items.
MAMA, THIS BORES ME: I don't know what's a worse idea for Spring Awakening: The Musical: The Movie--McG directing it or Lea Michele starring (and I say that as someone who thinks McG can be a fine director in his wheelhouse and who thought that Michele was quite good in the musical 6 years ago).
IT'S NO BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY: Members of the Korean People's Army play a-ha!
WE, INDEED, TAKE REQUESTS:  Per CW's request in yesterday's discussion of New Girl, are there any other tv shows we don't regularly cover here for which you'd like to provide a midseason report?
GUILTY OF BEING "TOO MUCH":  Anne Helen Petersen explains the fall of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle:
A man was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and paid the tragic price. But as should be clear, Arbuckle’s demise, like many star scandals, had much more to do with American anxieties about class and gender than any actual wrongdoing. Arbuckle became the figurehead for all that was dangerous about Hollywood — the unbridled wealth, the unchecked vice — and no jury could acquit him of being an overweight, asexualized man.
NO, IT'S NOT THE ONE WITH DEBBIE GIBSON V. TIFFANY:  Tonight, Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences will be hosting its quarterly Mega Bad Movie Night to dissect the "science" of The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

I mention this because their next such event will be Thursday, May 31, and the featured film will be ALOTT5MA favorite Sharktopus. Who's up for a get-together?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

DO YOU KNOW WHAT A STRAIGHT FLUSH IS?  IT'S LIKE ... UNBEATABLE:   Honeymoon In Vegas: The Musical is coming to Broadway in spring 2013, with Tony Danza booked to star in the James Caan role.

No word on who gets the Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker roles, and I can't imagine anyone here has a suggestion. [Also, if you're turning Cage films into musicals, shouldn't Peggy Sue Got Married and Face/Off come first?]  
I'M BLAMING LUPUS:  Fox has announced that House, M.D. will complete its eight-year run this May.
AMERICAN SCHOOLS CALLED YOU STARLIGHT IN FOURTEEN-POINT TYPE: There is a bloody battle being waged (puppies-vs.-babies-style) in the comments over at What's Alan Watching about last night's episode of New Girl, and whether it was great or terrible. Me, I mostly thought it was the kind of clunker that an otherwise pretty good show throws off now and then. The situations were too broad, forced, and sit-commy, and the attempts at transgressive humor didn't really land. It happens.

It is a good time to give the show its mid-term report card, though, and I'm going with a solid B. A show about a girl who's just about too cute for words could be insufferable, but that's not what New Girl has turned out to be. Instead, it's mostly a show about how a couple of real guys and a cartoon douchebag react to having an alien pixie fairy dropped into their ramshackle bachelor loft. By giving Nick (the writers' room's surrogate, if not the audience's) license to ask Jess, "how do you survive?" and then shove her in the right direction, the show usually can clap a stopper over any risk of excessive Jessness fouling the brew (a la Dharma & Greg or Phoebe from Friends). I'm not wild about episodes (like last night's) that suggest that Jess's intrusive pep is effective, but as long as the show acknowledges as often as not that Jess's childishness is an impairment, there's plenty of room in that structure for good comedy.
IF THEY CAN'T MAKE MONEY ON THIS, THEY WILL CONSIDER GETTING OUT OF THE MONEY MAKING BUSINESS: After the run of Game of Thrones, HBO will apparently hand the Sunday night slot for the summer over to Vampires Get Nekkid and Aaron Sorkin's new Newsroom, starting June 24.
DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN, DUN DUN DUN DOO DOO:  John Williams -- the film composer, not "Hot Rod" or "Hot Plate" or any of the other John Williamses -- turns 80 today.
SUPERMAN DOES GOOD; YOU'RE DOING WELL. YOU NEED TO STUDY YOUR GRAMMAR, SON: The twice-daily 30 Rock reruns on Comedy Central have restarted their cycle this week -- last night, I re-learned that Lutz had a first name (J.D.) and Toofer is really "James Spurlock."  (Seriously, it's like that rarely-aired pilot of Gilligan's Island where you learn the Skipper's and Professor's full names.)

It's fun watching the show figuring itself out -- Tracy's even more antagonistic than he ends up being (and, at the time, his entourage was more thuggish than lovable), Pete and Josh have larger roles (and they're still trying to figure out a place for Rachel Dratch), but hot damn is Jack Donaghy fully formed from the first moment. There are far worse ways to spend an hour each night than to watch the show that ended up winning the war with Studio 60. Also, here's a compilation of Liz Lemon flashbacks.
OMAR DON'T SCARE:  This week's episode of The Wire, "The Wire," gets us deeper into how people survive in this world. Bubbles has his copper scheme; Wallace is somehow raising a crew of parentless kids on chips and juice boxes; the police are subject to bureaucratic pressures potentially thwarting meaningful policing, forcing them to choose their battles; McNulty, again, lets his day job bleed into his parenting time without any sense of how reckless he's being. At least Bodie is "ready to be good," and I'm sure that'll work out well for everyone.

This episode didn't hit the dramatic (or comic) heights of some of its predecessors, but damn I enjoy each hour in this world.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

PAGING TOMMY WESTPHALL:  Follow the bouncing pop culture reference.
THE ONLY PLACE WHERE ELITISM REQUIRES YOU TO SCORN THE HARVARD ALUM: New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin is a novelty in the NBA because he is Taiwanese-American and a Harvard graduate (in a league where a fourth year of college is almost a badge of basketball inferiority). He doesn't exactly qualify as an out-of-nowhere sensation (he got a long Sports Illustrated profile a few years ago), and the odds remain firmly stacked against his long-term success (he got little time for the Warriors last year, and he is the Knicks' backup point guard only by virtue of injuries to two other Knicks guards). Even if the NBA existed (it doesn't), I wouldn't bet on a long and storied career.

But Lin had a great game the other night. More importantly he had a stirring game. It is rare to see giant, jaded, tattooed, bearded NBA players bouncing in giddy excitement and surprise at the performance of one of their teammates. For one game, Jeremy Lin, the NBA's most collegiate player, infected the pro game with collegiate enthusiasm. Try not to smile at Lin's highlights and the reactions of his teammates and Knicks fans.
I AIN'T GONNA TAKE NONE OF YOUR PUTTIN' ME DOWN:  Former American Idol finalist Casey Abrams, much beloved in these parts, has shaved his beard (on video) as part of an awareness campaign for inflammatory bowel disease.  More importantly?  He now has a record deal with Concord Music Group, a jazz label.

Monday, February 6, 2012

SADLY, BILLY CRYSTAL WILL STILL GET TO SING: Apparently, there will be no performances of the two nominated songs at the Oscars this year.
NO, THIS SHOW DOES NOT FEATURE THE HULK: Since NBC's move of Medium out of the slot, that 10 PM Monday timeslot has been an ugly one for then (occupants since then have included Studio 60, Journeyman, My Own Worst Enemy, Chase, and The Playboy Club--all costly flops of varying degrees of quality). Having seen the pilot of Smash, I'm not convinced it's going to fix that problem for NBC, though it's definitely on the high end of the quality spectrum. I did want to talk about two problems that the show could easily fall into--one of which it overcomes, and one of which is why I think it's going to flop (at least among the general public).

  • "Show Don't Tell"--Possibly the most common knock on Studio 60 was that it spent an infinite time with characters telling us how brilliant and edgy the comedy writing on the show was, but when we saw the sketches themselves, they were far from brilliant. (Though Simon Helberg's Nicolas Cage impression was kinda funny.) Smash attempts to overcome this in two ways. First, we're incessantly reminded that the musical we're seeing is a work in progress with problems still being worked on, so we don't have the inflated expectations issue, at least thus far. Second, they've smartly brought in pros (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) to write the songs and hired legit stage talent and choreographers, so when we see a fully staged number (especially the baseball one from the pilot) it works.

  • "Inside Baseball"--Yes, there's a lot in the show that's very cookie-cutter--plucky girl from the midwest v. chorus girl for a starring role! A sleazy director trying to use the casting couch! "Spider-Man" jokes! But are people outside of NYC going to get who Michael Reidel is, much less why people are so neurotic about what he writes? Yes, folks who know theatre will eat it up, but that's not exactly a mass audience.

You can also almost see the network notes being put into action--Megan Hilty's introduction includes a loving pan up her (quite impressive) figure, for instance--but I'm interested to see if this can become a mainstream hit, though I can see NBC being quite happy if it does a solid audience of high-income viewers and keeps up with the acclaim given how deep the hole they're in is.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

MANNING FROM HEAVEN:  Well, that was a football game.  MVPs: Eli, Manningham, Madonna (incl. Slacklining Dude), Tuck, Eastwood, whoever shot the Beckham ad; LVP: whoever approved that Fiat ad.
HEY GIRL:  For the month of February, Time Warner Cable is offering an all-Ryan Gosling channel.
ALL HE (STILL) EVER DOES IS NOT GET INDUCTED:  Defying this blog's clearly expressed wishes, the nation's football writers have again bypassed Cris Carter for the Professional Football Hall of Fame and instead elected cornerback Jack Butler, center Dermontti Dawson, defensive end/linebacker Chris Doleman, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, running back Curtis Martin, and tackle Willie Roaf.

I have no objection to any of the the inductees.  But Cris Carter belongs in too. FWIW, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, and Warren Sapp join the ballot next year.