Saturday, May 19, 2012

IT'S MORE LIKE TIMELINE #3: As you've almost assuredly heard, unless you live under a rock, Dan Harmon, who created and steered Community through its first three seasons, will not be returning for the fourth (and presumptively final) season-- Vulture has a good solid and fairly even-handed report with background, Harmon's issued a statement/rant, and Dan and Alan both have analysis.  A few things I wanted to note, though:
  • "Dan Harmon is incredibly talented and creative" and "Dan Harmon is kind of an ass" are not mutually exclusive ideas here.  By his own admission, Harmon is not the easiest person to work with and for, and wants things done his way.  Admittedly, when "his way" works, we get some great television, but Community is a power swinger--always aiming for the homer, and hitting a bunch, but also striking out with more regularity than you'd hope.
  • When these stirrings first were heard, I was hopeful that Hilary Winston, who wrote the finales of the first two seasons, and who moved on to Happy Endings, might take over.  (She had a pilot which didn't get picked up, and apparently has a deal with Sony.)  However, we're getting David Gurascio and Moses Port, who created Aliens in America, ran Just Shoot Me for a number of years, and were on staff at Happy Endings this year.  Actually, they're a pretty good choice--Aliens and Happy Endings both started as pretty conventional sitcoms, but quickly got weird.  I don't think they're going to wholesale turn the show into a traditional sitcom. 
  • I think the pickup of Community had less to do with NBC wanting to be in the Community business than keeping certain talent happy--NBC and Universal both want to be in business with McHale, Brie, and Glover in particular for the foreseeable future.  However, I'll be interested to see if this actually backfires on those aims--in interviews, the cast generally seems resolutely pro-Harmon.
  • Harmon's statement makes plain that he has basically zero interest in staying on at Community without total control.  I hope he'll reconsider.  Harmon's a great, great, idea guy, but (by his own admission) terrible at other things.  Ideally, he'd be allowed to continue coming up with funny/strange ideas, while Gurascio/Port focus on the nut and bolt side of the business.  I think that could be helpful for the show.

Friday, May 18, 2012

KID K:  Owner of the highest individual Game Score in MLB history (in his fifth start, and watch all 20 third strikes here) and one of only three pitchers to hurl more than 1000 innings with a K/9 IP ratio higher than 10 (Unit, Pedro), Kerry Wood entered today's game to face one more batter before announcing his retirement.

If you don't get a bit dusty watching this, I don't even want to know you.
HIGH, HIGHER THAN THE SUN:  Back in 2009, Bono's investment team bought 2.3% of Facebook for $90 million. By days end, those shares may be worth $1.5 billion and he may become the richest rock star on earth, even more wealthy than Paul McCartney. Whatever he's still looking for, he can pay someone to find now.
THE TALENT AGENT LOVED THIS ACT:  Fifty Shades of Grey, the audiobook, as read by Gilbert Gottfried. (NSFW; HT: Shayera)
MODERN TIPPING ETIQUETTE III, PLUS BONUS FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO:  We received a question from sknitting yesterday:
Haircuts! How much are you generally tipping?

For context, the place I go is independently owned by two people - one of those people I believe just does the running-of-the-business stuff, and the other cuts/dyes/etc hair, along with two other people (including the person I see) who I assume rent their chairs there.

I'm a woman with really short hair, so I'm generally in every 4-6 weeks to get it trimmed and have the back/sides buzzed, and my hairdresser is awesome and usually charges me the men's short hair price (since it's lower). I occasionally have random colours put in, which takes a long time, and involves a few different steps, so on those appointments I've been tipping 20% (generally $20). But what about the times I'm just getting a cut, it takes 20-30 minutes, and is (I think?) fairly simple? ... is there a general rule for haircut tipping? What is it? Is it some basic grown-up thing that everyone knows that I somehow missed out on along with learning to like coffee and wine?
I've always tipped 20% -- I'm getting someone's undivided, personal attention for a half hour, and also because my hair's not the easiest. Betty has been cutting my hair every 6-8 weeks for about 12, 13 years now, and I've followed her from her past salon to the new place, so in addition to the tips I also make sure to give her a Christmas bonus each year equal to one more visit. What I've never figured out are two things:
  1. How much to tip the woman who shampoos my hair, and, if it's Betty herself doing double duty, does she get an extra tip for that service?
  2. The language question: what do I call the profession of the woman who cuts my hair other than The Woman Who Cuts My Hair?  The term "barber," to me, denotes a burly, old-fashioned man with a mustache and a straight razor; "stylist," I dunno.  What term do you use?
NATOing THE RUBBER OR FROM CASTRO TO MERKEL TO SOSA: With the NATO summit arriving in Chicago this weekend and it also happening to be the Crosstown Classic (Cubs vs. White Sox), I wrote a piece for ChicagoSide on the parallels between some some world leaders and their namesakes from Chicago baseball past and present. Who knew that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the infamous Fred Merkle both shared an aversion to surprise back rubs or that UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Gold Glove outfielder Mike Cameron both value teamwork?

Turst me, it's funny and while you are there, bookmark the site and browse through the archives. It's the brainchild of Jonathan Eig, the author of bestselling books on Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig, and Al Capone, and basically serves up a literate Chicago sports story a day, the kind of which you don't find in the local papers anymore.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

DENOUNCING AND REJECTING MY PRIOR REMARKS: I know I said something else earlier this week, but Andrew Sweat's comments to Pro Football Talk are sufficient to sway me as to his decision to give up his NFL dreams for law school:
“I suffered three concussions in college,” Sweat said. “My last one was against Purdue, which was a very bad one. I stumbled off the field, could hardly walk, was numb in my fingers. It was really bad. The symptoms continued in early spring and even through the draft, but I wanted to play football, I wanted to give it a shot, so I signed with the Browns and went to the minicamp. But I slipped and fell in the shower, I hit my head — not even that hard — against the wall, and that brought back all those concussions. I went to the trainers with the Browns and consulted my family and decided to step away from the game.”
CANCER SUCKS (AGAIN):  We may have occasionally debated whether the music of Donna Summer constitutes "rock," but there's no doubt that what she did made us happy, and compelled us to dance. She died today at 63 after a long battle with cancer, but as long as we've got "Love To Love You Baby," "Hot Stuff," "Bad Girls," "Dim All the Lights," and "Last Dance," the Queen of Disco will have our unconditional love.
MODERN ETIQUETTE II:  Since y'all raised it yesterday, let's have at it -- what is the proper tipping level for a taxi ride?  I typically pay cash, and I typically round up to the next dollar for a fare under $9 -- $6.XX means I want the guy to have $8.00, $8.XX means $10.00, etc. For fares over $9, I'll round it up higher.

I strongly disagree with Isaac's assertion that because "a cab driver who takes you a very short distance has lost the fare and tip from a longer ride," you should give the guy $10 for a $7.20 cab ride. To me, as long as the driver is taking me somewhere where he can pick up his next fare quickly (and he can if he's taking me home), he gets to grab another $2.70 flag drop (+ $1.25 temporary fuel surcharge) and keep the revenues high.  Now, this may be a Phila v. LA thing -- other than airport trips ($28.50 flat fee, and I'll usually give the guy $34-$35 depending on bags handled), Philadelphia cab drivers don't do a lot of long trips to the suburbs because our commuter rail system does a good job of getting those folks home.  It's mostly intra-downtown transit.  But YMMV.

added.sunstein.nudge.nudge.nudge: Setting the default tip percentages for NYC taxis accepting credit cards to 20%, 25%, and 30% has raised the average tip from roughly 10% to 22%, generating $144,146,165 per year in additional tips.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

YES, BUT WHERE DOES MC SKAT KAT GO AT NIGHT?  We always like to highlight when members of our community make the national news without the words "allegedly" or "refused to comment" appended to their names, so kudos to our Ms. Amy Watts. She signed up for a local news piece on a research project in which her cats participated, and the next thing you know studly anchor Brian Williams is introducing a piece for NBC Nightly News on what happens when you strap a camera to an outdoor housecat.

Would you like to know more? (Yes.) Here's the 2012 kill sheet for Amy's Booker T., and more UGa kittycam footage can be found here.
WE...WENT...FISHING: Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, does this look a man who's had "all he could eat"?
IT'S A STRAIGHT FLUSH--IT'S LIKE, UNBEATABLE: By Todd VanDerWerff's estimate, Glee did something unusual last night--achieving "rummy" for the season--meaning that by his grading scale, it's had an episode hitting every letter grade from A to F during the course of the season.  I do think VanDerWerff was overly generous in giving an "A" to the second half of last night's double episode for the block (and overly punishing in giving an "F" to "Choke," which had problems in half the story, but also featured Chris Colfer's dynamite "Not The Boy Next Door"), but I think he nails the joy and the central problem with the show right there--it's so wildly inconsistent in tone and quality that you never know what you're going to get. 

Indeed, in the span of two hours last night, we got wacky (and surprisingly well-performed all around) body swap hijinks, a bizarrely meta set of "previouslies," random celebrity cameos, and authentic personal and emotional milestones for a bunch of characters.  That's what makes Glee hard to stop watching--even as it hits nadirs, which it does with a fair degree of regularity, it can, when it works, work in a way no other show does.  I'll almost certainly be giving it up next season (the timeslot against Office/Parks and Rec, Grey's, Person of Interest, and whatever the CW wants to give a Vampire Diaries leadin to is murderous, and the streaming delay problematic), but I'll do so with a bit of regret.
MODERN ETIQUETTE:  Ken Tremendous tweeted a question two nights ago:
Crowd source, please: when you get take-out, do you tip on credit card receipt, and if so how much?  Scenario: you order from a mid-range sit-down restaurant. Bill is $36.22. How much do you tip on the credit card receipt? I need to make this clear: I'm picking up the food at the restaurant. They're not delivering it.
So I asked Inq restaurant critic Craig LaBan yesterday in his chat, and he responded:
You do leave a tip, Adam, because someone has to coordinate, package and organize that order, which is at least as involved as walking it from the kitchen to your table. However you choose to do that - cash or credit - is up to you. But I always leave a tip on take out or delivery, 15% minimum...
Thoughts? (Ken had settled on "I'm going to say that you leave 7.5-10%. Because it's nice to tip, and working in a restaurant is hard. Can I get an amen?") I'll be honest: I hadn't been tipping before on takeout-from-non-takeout-restaurants. But I will start.
YOU WANT THE ARRANGEMENT TO LOOK LIKE A HIGH-RISE HOUSING PROJECT? Just when I thought the dark comedy of The Wire couldn't get any darker, it went there.

"Backwash" (Sepinwall, Ariano) generally feels like more of the same: everyone's stuck in the game they're playing, with little** way out.  Frank Sobotka increasingly desperate in trying to preserve a dangerous way of life that he knows is already gone; Stringer Bell making business decisions devoid of emotion (and without or despite Avon's advice); the police doing their best to figure out what's going on in the port, but they're not going to be able to clear the big case in this modern urban crime environment. Oh, and Prop Joe has a proposition for you. (What's new? Almost no McNulty.)

But yet again, it's Desperate Frank Sobotka with the best moment:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

YOU'D BETTER NOT SHOUT, YOU'D BETTER NOT CRY:  Pat Burrell is coming back to town this weekend, and the community is on notice (NSFW).
DANCING WITH THE RATINGS: Even though ABC has a bunch of potent weapons (Dancing With The Stars, Modern Family), they had a bunch of holes to plug in their schedule this fall, and a few interesting moves:
  • They're pairing the very compatible Happy Endings and Don't Trust The B as an edgy comedy block, but putting it at 9 Tuesday, which runs them up against New Girl/Mindy and NCIS: Los Angeles, which isn't exactly the easiest competition.  They serve as a lead-in into Private Practice, which gets to see if it can find a solid footing away from Grey's.
  • Comedy The Neighbors gets the plum post-Modern Family slot despite a silly premise (normal family moves into a gated community and discovers their neighbors are all aliens), leading into the soapy Nashville at 10, with Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere as feuding country singers.  (Mrs. Coach, coupled with uninteresting other options Wednesday at 10, means this'll get at least a few episodes from me.)
  • In the continuing quest to find something that works to lead off Thursday nights, ABC is going with Last Resort, a starry drama (Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman, Autumn Reeser, Dichen Lachman) about a rogue nuclear sub, which seems to be almost the least compatible thing I can imagine with Grey's and Scandal.
  • Sunday gets retooled, with the much-buzzed, but kind of ratings-challenged Revenge inheriting the Housewives slot, leading into 666 Park Avenue, about a haunted apartment building in NYC.
PAGING JONATHAN VOSBURG:  Ah, when warnings collide -- Don't Let Your Son Play Football versus Don't Go To Law School Unless You're Sure It'll Work, as undrafted Ohio State linebacker Andrew Sweat, having been offered a training camp invite to the Cleveland Browns, will instead enroll in law school at Pittsburgh, Duquesne, West Virginia, Florida, or the University of Miami.

Look: he may well not make it to an NFL roster, and after he suffered a concussion last season I certainly understand why he'd tweet this:
Concussion symptoms didn't want to risk it.. Thanks to the browns for the opportunity. Health trumps football any day
Except for this: law school is always going to be there, and I imagine he'd do even better on the LSAT without the burdens of playing Big Ten football. Meanwhile, why not give the NFL a try, and if he ever suffers concussive brain trauma again retire immediately -- though I'd note that whatever long-term health impact football will have on him, most of it has already been incurred from having played high school and college ball. So I side with Elie Mystal:
Maybe playing in the NFL would take an incredible toll on his body, but this is the only time in his life, forever, that he’ll get a chance to try to make that career happen for himself and reap the considerable economic rewards that come from being a player in the NFL. Going to law school and becoming a lawyer will take an incredible toll on his personality and psyche, and it’s a journey that can be started at any time. He could break his neck and become a paraplegic and still go to law school. But it’s very likely that even one year of sitting in a classroom listening to somebody drone on about torts and civil procedure will kill his football career.
Update, May 17: This post has been denounced and rejected by its author.
HOW I MET THE END OF MY ROPE:  I stopped watching HIMYM about halfway through the season, came back for last night's season finale, and feel pretty good about abandoning the show. It's not so much the the artificial twists to delay The Big Reveal -- though that's part of it -- but rather that I can no longer enjoy the hammy, sitcommy stuff like Lily's birth scene or the airport security confrontation in a show that has done the subtle, emotional stuff fairly well when it finally gets down to doing it (like having Robin confront Ted on his fundamental doucheness).

We've now seen Ted allegedly trying to find Your Mother seven seasons and 160 episodes. Enough already. The character is the weak link, and I don't really care who he ends up with because unlike the other four leads, he hasn't really grown up or changed in any meaningful way. So I'll keep the TiVo season pass, and watch an episode if y'all tell me it's great, but otherwise, yeah, done.
FADE IN, ON A GIRL WITH A HUNGER FOR FAME:  So that wasn't nearly as awful as it could have been -- no rousing Marilyn's Post-Mortem Gospel Anthem, Derek didn't find someone else to have sex with backstage, Leo was barely present -- and give credit to creator Theresa Rebeck for pulling a reverse-Sorkin on her way out and cleaning up some messes by giving Dev and Ellis a clear path to Mandyville, rather than bollixing up the works unnecessarily. (Let's hope the pregnancy scare will be dismissed and forgotten.)

But the season was premised on a fundamental flaw: Karen Cartwright, as played by Katharine McPhee, has no business being the lead in a Broadway show, and certainly not in a show about Marilyn Monroe for which Megan Hilty is available. The rivalry did not work because the winner (to viewers and critics) was always clear, but as Matt wrote last week the creative team proceeded without that necessary feedback loop.

So where do we go from here?  Honestly, I'd rather not have had the Debra Messing post-ending plug where she promises that next season we'll see the show make it to Broadway; I'd rather they decide that Bombshell couldn't make it, and start from scratch with a new concept.  I think the only way to keep Karen and Ivy now (within the context of Bombshell) is to have Karen go bad, showing her path to cynicism, while making Ivy the star. I'd get rid of Dev, Ellis, and Michael, give more space for Tom, and find some way to get Norbert Leo Butz there more often. And, of course, send Leo to China to find his sister. She's waiting.

Monday, May 14, 2012

TRUST, BUT VERIFY: The villains spent a lot of time last night on Game of Thrones reminding us that they're villains. To wit:
PRINCESS ANGELINA CONTESSA LOUISA FRANCESCA BANANA-FANNA BO BESCA THE THIRD: The Social Security Administration has released the data on the top baby names in 2011. Jacob reigns for the thirteenth straight year for the boys, while Sophia displaces Isabella after two years for the girls. Mason's the biggest riser at the top for boys (from #12), while overall Brantley, Briella, Maximiliano, Angelique, and Elsie are among the bigger risers. (Falling the furthest: Brett for the boys, Brisa for the girls, but also Brenda, Brenden, Braiden, Braeden, and Brayan are dropping. What's up with all the Brrrrrr action?)

Names I wish were not rising, because I am judgmental: Kamden, Maverick, Jayce, Remington, and Karter; Nylah, Charlee, Londyn, Aleah, and Journey.
COME ON IN, GUYS:  Other than the joy of seeing the first guy eliminated claim to have played the Best Game Ever (and the glorious return of the Dead Homies parade), there isn't that much to say about last night's Survivor finale, is there?  The right person won, for the the right reasons, and it was even more impressive because....
PU PU:  Congratulations, Betty Draper: you're raising a daughter who can be as spiteful as you, but what happens when she directs her cutting questions back at mom? Once again, Sally Draper learns more about the adult world, and once more she finds out it kinda sucks.

No, "Dark Shadows" wasn't the greatest hour of the show, though I like the idea of Roger and Bert (and Don) trying to act again like the busy bees they once were. But this episode is a perfect demonstration of Matt's ratio of Mad Men success: this little Joan and Peggy (and Dawn), and that much Betty, usually leads to bad things, even if mitigated by the prospect of throwing a snowball at Hitler. I do wonder if the "Ugly Betty" plot is prompted by the actress' pregnancy rather than dramatic needs, because as a dramatic arc ... not doing it for me.

The smog is coming, so watch out.

added:  MZS: "Do you feel, as I do, that a lot of the fat Betty stuff this season feels like narrative piling-on, despite the thematic sharpness of aspects like the Weight Watchers meeting scenes? Don't the weight gain, the pills, the crushing loneliness, and that Henry Jamesian mansion of doom feel a bit like karmic payback for sins that are, in the greater scheme, a lot less grave than Don's? How do you solve a problem like Betty Draper?"

 Also: Is Season 5 using the tracks of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as a template?
AND, OF COURSE, 90 MINUTES OF SETH MACFARLANE SHOWS:  Because Fox is in decent shape ratings-wise and because it constantly reshuffles its schedule due to the combination of baseball in the Fall and Idol in the Spring, its schedule isn't as new-program heavy as NBC, but a few notes:
  • To replace House, we have The Mob Doctor on Mondays (paired with Bones), about a doctor (Jordana Spiro) who works for the Chicago Mob.  An interesting cast--Spiro, Ċ½eljko Ivanek, Matt Saracen, William Forsythe--even if I'm not sold on the premise.
  • Tuesday becomes a two-hour comedy block, with the Mindy Kaling show (unsurprisingly) pairing with New Girl, and Ben and Kate (a comedy with Oscar-winner Nat Faxon and the cute girl from We Bought A Zoo) paired with Raising Hope.
  • The big surprise is Glee, which gets moved to Thursdays at 9 out of X Factor, which will make it very easy for me to quit it (Parks and Rec and Grey's are certainly higher priorities, and the CW is likely going to try to launch something big out of Vampire Diaries).
  • In part because Idol gives them a launchpad, Fox is holding two big promising shows for midseason--Goodwin Games, about a mismatched bunch of siblings who must complete "tasks" laid out for them by their late father in a video will to get a fortune, and Kevin Williamson/Kevin Bacon serial killer thriller The Following.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

MUST SEE TV? Based on its fall schedule, NBC loves comedy and The Voice, with two nights of Voice being a keystone and every weeknight but Monday having at least an hour of comedy.  Of particular note:
  • Smash gets held for midseason, with high concept J.J. Abrams drama Revolution (all energy sources in the world suddenly stop working!) getting Monday's Voice lead-in.
  • Parenthood stays put on Tuesday, and Biggest Loser goes away, replaced by an hour-long Tuesday Voice into two new comedies--the Matthew Perry-fronted Go On and the Ryan Murphy-Ali Adler The New Normal.
  • Wednesday is the strangest night, with two family friendly comedies (Guys With Kids and Animal Practice) at 8, leading into SVU at 9, and a new Dick Wolf firefighter drama at 10.
  • Thursdays, kind of shockingly, remain basically unchanged in the fall--30 Rock/Up All Night/The Office/Parks and Rec make up "Comedy Night Done Right," but NBC's response to three massive drama failures this year at 10?  Dumping Rock Center With Brian Williams there.
  • Friday gets another tonally dissonant mix, with Whitney opening the night, followed by Community, then Grimm and Dateline to close out the evening.
WHAT YOU WANT, NATALIE?  The Lonely Island's 100th SNL Digital Short proves, if nothing else, that it may be impossible to construct a comedic sketch which Jon Hamm can't steal.

Full list of the 100(+) here; you cannot force me to pick a favorite between "Dick in a Box" and the rap song referenced in the title, and I will not do so.
WITHOUT THE GAME, DEE, WE PROBABLY WOULDN'T EVEN BE A FAMILY:  Advice from pop culture's moms: