Friday, March 24, 2006

BUT WILL TREAT WILLIAMS PLAY A SMARMY AGENT IN THE MOVIE? Bill Carter, author of the much loved chronicle of "who's getting The Tonight Show?" The Late Shift, has a new book in May following the 2004-2005 TV season--Desperate Networks, which will apparently focus on how all the networks responded to ABC's two unexpected smashes of last season--Desperate Housewives and Lost. It sounds a lot like David Wild's excellent The Showrunners, which followed the heartbreaking end of NewsRadio and its adjustment to life after Phil Hartman, the premature death of Veronica Mars maven Rob Thomas' Cupid, and reminds us that David Kohan and Max Mutchnick were once actually funny.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD, WHAT IS THERE MORE HANDSOME? GULPED, SWALLOWED, OR CHEWED, STILL WORTH A KING'S RANSOM: I'm not one for adding to the blogroll, but thought I'd mention a couple of interesting newish blogs for those who are interested in food and wine. Eric Asimov, the wine critic for the New York Times (and former author of the always excellent "$25 and Under" restaurant column) and Frank Bruni, the NYT's restaurant critic for the last couple of years, are now blogging about their particular areas of expertise.

Diner's Journal has thus far included an interesting melange of topics ranging from preliminary reviews of new restaurants (most recently A Voce and Buddakan Comes to New York), coatcheck tipping policies, and the glory of brussels sprouts (hallelujah!) to the NYT's policy on re-reviewing restaurants, a food-related book review, and so forth.

The Pour is similarly wide-ranging: personal thoughts on legendary wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr., a review of an Alsatian restaurant with an excellent beer list, a diatribe on the mediocrity of certain restaurants' wine lists and the creativity of others', and an ode to an aged Rioja rosé.

Interesting stuff on both blogs -- bon appétit! Or should I say salut?
IF YOU CAN'T FIX IT, YOU GOTTA LITIGATE IT: "[I]nstantly recognizable household name and much-admired actor" Randy Quaid has sued the producers of Brokeback Mountain, claiming he was misled into accepting a small paycheck for an "art film," when the film was in fact a studio release. As far as I know, Quaid has not yet sued the producers of Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure for representing that it would be a "good and entertaining film."
THE BRICKS STOPPED THERE. At the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, there is (or used to be) a beautifully rendered, scratch-built 1/100 scale aircraft carrier on the upper floor, off to the right. This, however, is the greatest model of an aircraft carrier I've ever seen. Made entirely of Lego. And to Legomen scale.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

YOUR FIRST CHALLENGE? REVIVE HUNTER: Applications for the new reality show we like to call "Who Wants To Write Think-Pieces About Midlevel Bands Struggling With Their Limitations In The Face Of Stardom?" are now online.
WE'LL MEET 'NEATH THAT GIANT EXXON SIGN THAT GIVES THIS FAIR CITY LIGHT: New to the blogroll, and deservedly so, are blogs from two columnists from the Newark Star-Ledger who are both on quite a roll lately: Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall.

F'ristance, just check out this comment thread from Zoller Seitz on the most recent Sopranos episode, which glides from dream interpretation to My So-Called Life to determining who was the unsung hero of Homicide: Life on the Streets. (Can I put in a word for Barnfather?) Good stuff, yo.
WAKE UP!!!! It's about time we had a really good new Spike Lee joint. And with a solid female performance? Wow.

I've always been a fan of Lee's: I'll take someone ambitious who occasionally fails over someone who never tries at all, and Malcolm X, Get on the Bus, She's Gotta Have It, School Daze, Do The Right Thing, hell, even most of Bamboozled still holds up pretty well. (Want to talk about an Academy injustice? How about Scent of a Woman getting best picture/director noms over Malcolm X.)
NO PROMISED NEW FLEETWOOD MAC COVERS: I'm not normally a huge fan of country music, but is anyone else exceedingly excited about the new Rick Rubin-produced Dixie Chicks album? Their last album, Home, is one of my favorite albums of the decade thus far, and it's been 4 years (and a lot of controversy) since then, so I hope they've saved up some good stuff for us.
ALSO, A BOWL OF ONLY TAN M&M'S--HAND SORTED, PLEASE: Vice President Cheney apparently has a "concert rider" type document detailing the requirements for his "downtime suite" when travelling. The Smoking Gun's got it. Apparently, the veep is a fan of Diet Caffeine Free Sprite, decaf coffee, Fox News, and likes it to be exactly 68 degrees. I suppose it's no stranger than the Rolling Stones' demand for the channel that shows cricket and space for their touring snooker table.
YET ONE TREE HILL REMAINS UNCUT: In response to last week's series of FCC rulings, the WB demanded that series creator Tom Fontana cut down the pilot of his "college kids talk about sex" drama The Bedford Diaries (scheduled for two airings followed by a prompt demise against Lost). Fontana refused to make the cuts, and now the network "censor" will make the cuts before airing. The good news is that the uncensored version will be available on the WB's website starting this afternoon, so Lost addicts can check out the show, which has an interesting cast (Matthew Modine and Milo Ventimiglia) and an impeccable pedigree.
DADDY, WHAT'S THAT ON ARIEL?, PART II: I had no idea I'd be able to recycle this title so soon, but the leaders of Wellington, FL, have forced my hand.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

NEXT UP, EXTREME MAKEOVER: CELEBRITY HOME EDITION: While zipping through commercials on ABC tonight, I noticed a commercial for the "new series" Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: After the Storm. As best as I can tell, this is (I believe), the first ever spinoff of a spinoff. (You could argue that CSI:NY is a spinoff of CSI:Miami, or that Conviction is a spinoff of L&O:SVU, but I don't think that's really the case.) My head hurts from the combination of that and trying to figure out why Academy Award winner Martin Landau is playing third banana behind Orlando "7Up Guy" Jones in a formulaic cop show.
WHY, I'M NOT AN OTHER AT ALL. I'M HENRY GALE, FROM KANSAS: This is one of those Lost episodes where someone's gonna feel the need to complain that nothing happened. I just know it. For me, tonight's flashback answered a question I'd been wondering about for a while, so I'm pleased. So -- is she telling the truth?
THE SKY HAS FALLEN: I have to say that I'm surprised by this week's AI departure. Not by the bottom three, but by the fact that this was the week that this particular contestant was sent home. And wow, does the crowd love them some Daughtry, unattributed covers of covers and all.
MAYBE IT'S JUST ME, BUT I'D TAKE A DRUNK HICK WITH A GUN OVER A COW: After a remarkable 28-4 start in round one, Charlie Glassenberg's Mascot Matcher system went a bit more ordinary in the next round, notching just a .625 clip. What's in store for the Sweet 16, you ask?

Duke Blue Devils vs. LSU Tigers: Even a jungle cat must yield to the prince of darkness! Duke

Texas Longhorns vs. WV Mountaineers: Back to yer stills, good ol' boys, you've been trampled in a stampede. Texas

Memphis Tigers vs. Bradley Braves: MascotMatcher has done a poor job assessing the Braves, but Memphis has a tiger in the tank. Roar! Memphis

UCLA Bruins vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs: Bear baiting hits the sweet sixteen, and the pooches come out on top. Gonzaga

Villanova Wildcats vs. BC Eagles: Our national bird will put the feral kitties to shame. BC

Florida Gators vs. Georgetown Hoyas: The McHoya Sandwich: Chomp! Florida

UConn Huskies vs. Washington Huskies: When the larger lads from the Nutmeg State meet the rotund boys from the shadow of Rainier, it's the Long Tidal River vs. Puget Sound, it's Storrs vs. Olympia, it's grunge vs. polka, it's Joe Lieberman vs. Scoop Jackson, it's Millstone vs. Hanford, it's the Cascadia Plate vs. the Moodus Noises, it's Sub Base Bangor vs. Sub Base New London, it's... tedious. UConn

Wichita St. Shockers vs. George Mason Patriots: No shock here: Wichita State has been fixed in the all-seeing eye. Those aren't ceremonial aprons, they're butcher's aprons. George Mason
WHY, THAT'S A HALF-DOLLAR PIECE IN THE ROAD! One of our readers forward me a link to this odd picture, a mobile phone company's illustration (for a contest) allegedly containing representations of 75 different musical artists.

So let's do it. Keep a running tally in the comments and show us where each artist is, like so:

1. 50 Cent (half-dollar in the road, front-left).
2. Guns n'Roses (atop the card, front-left). . . .
HEAVY ROTATION 1: I have been listening a lot lately to St. Etienne's song "Side Streets". It's a pop masterpiece, blending the dance rhythms and productions that defined the post-acid house sound of mid-90's Everything But the Girl with the sublime harmonies of the late 1960's work of Brian Wilson. It's the new single from the group's CD "Tales From Turnpike House", which was recently released in the US. Do check it out.
THE GROK OF LOST: Lost returns tonight, with what looks to be a Sun/Jin-centric episode. For those of you who don't spend hours noodling around looking for theoretical musings, here's an interesting theory on the survivors' cameo appearances in each other's flashbacks, posited by EW's Jeff Jensen. Jensen muses that perhaps the island's electromagnetic energy is causing the psychic boundaries between the lostaways' minds to disintegrate and their psyches to merge. Giving this theory a smidge of pop cultural cred is the fact that Robert Heinlein apparently incorporated this concept in Stranger in a Strange Land, calling it "grok." As a Heinlein character explains, "Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because we are from Earth) as color means to a blind man."

Now I am by no means a Heinlein expert -- I've owned the book for 20 years and have never cracked the cover -- but the notion that the many coincidences we've observed in the characters' pasts aren't for real, but are instead a product of the island's juju (hee!) seems quite feasible. And Heinlein seems like as reasonable a place as any for JJ and the Island Band to be deriving inspiration from. What say you? (I am quite confident that we've got one or two Heinlein experts among us -- can you help me out on this grok business?)
I WAS DREAMING WHEN I BLOGGED THIS...: I'll leave you with this before I head to California: Prince has pissed off his landlord, Carlos Boozer, by painting the exterior of the West Hollywood house the musician is renting from the Utah Jazz power forward with purple striping, Prince symbols, and the numbers 3121, which also happens to be the name of Prince's new CD.
I JUST FLIPPED OFF PRESIDENT GEORGE: One more piece of vacation-related advice, if you can indulge me. We have about a day and a half to spend at Disneyland in California. I have a six year old boy and a four year old girl. What rides are can't miss? Which rides should we skip? Should we bother spending the half day at California Adventure? Any other tips?
WHAT IS "I'M SO IN?" For many years, I have had a major goal--to appear on Jeopardy! The recent elimination of the "five wins and out" rule increased that interest. However, I've never been able to get past the initial lottery to take the test when they had an audition near me. (They'll get thousands of entries and randomly choose a relatively small number to take the test.) That's why I'm excited about the new online test.
DER GUTEN TAG HOP CLOP: Having TAR at 10 after a full night of American Graven Image apparently wrecks havoc with the schedule around here. Personally, I found last night a little bland, in part because a particularly nasty "needle in a haystack" Roadblock (made nastier by the fact that you couldn't tell what areas had already been searched) was followed by a Detour in which one option was a "needle in a haystack" scenario. That said, the "wall of death" was cool to watch, though pointless as a racing challenge, and I admired that so much of the leg involved actual navigation, which some teams proved exceedingly inept at accomplishing.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

ALL THE LEAVES ARE BROWN...: Sorry for the radio silence from this blogger, but I've been in pre-vacation stress mode, trying to finish a number of things before the family heads off to sunny Palm Springs for 10 days or so, including a side trip to Disney, Legoland, and Sea World. Feel free to leave any tips here if you know the area. Mainly I'm looking for an In-N-Out Burger between the Orange County Airport and Palm Springs.

In the meantime, this is well worth watching.
"ELLEN, YOU KNOW, I'M ASIAN:" I finally got around to watching Monday's Nightline segment on Grey's Anatomy, and it's really refreshing to see how well the cast gets along off-camera. The key point of the segment and one of things that I find so refreshing about the show is the way it has a multi-cultural cast without beating us over the head with that fact and being "about race." Also fascinating was that the pilot script was revolutionary in that it, in the first draft, did not provide any racial or otherwise identifying details for the characters. A nice segment that I hope will make its way onto the extras segment of the Season 2 DVD's, and which should turn up on the Nightline website soon. (And is it just me, or does the new Nightline format, with a bunch of short segments, not feel like Nightline at all?)
SPIRITS MOVE ME EVERY TIME I'M NEAR YOU: I love Barry Manilow week on American Idol, I really do. It's the one week of the season when AI turns into America's Next Top Model or Project Runway and we really get to see the learning and improving process in action. Last season, Barry week was actually the week in which Barry Manilow songs were performed, and he personally selected the appropriate song for each performer. This time, with the '50s as theme, Barry was the show's perfect vocal coach, arranging and re-arranging and coaxing the best from everyone. And once again, Barry week proved to be the week in which we saw the best performances of the season.

Is there any doubt as to who should go home this week? Nearly everyone brought their A game -- even Kevin the outclassed, who delivered a perfectly sweet and lovely performance. After a couple of messy weeks, Kellie delivered a personal best with a song that I predicted a week ago she'd be singing for 50s night. Paris was finally Parislike again, Ace was suitably Acey (although his schtick is starting to wear a little thin for me), and Katharine and Mandisa were just brilliant. Despite the fact that I continue not to get Elliott, this week's performance was quite lovely. Taylor's song choice was questionable, but are his fans really going to desert him now, in his hour of need? Unlikely.

So who's it going to be? I think there are two candidates, but only one who really should go home. Lisa's effort to bring the cute felt a little fake, especially with the big performances delivered by her fellow ladies onstage. But it was Bucky who fell short this week -- fun song choice from an enjoyability standpoint, disastrous one from a singing competition standpoint. (The same could be said for Taylor, but I think Taylor's got a much broader fan base and a heck of a lot of goodwill built up.)

A final note on Daughtry: what I find most interesting about him is that he seems to know much more about music than the other competitors. Not necessarily music theory or the nuances of technical vocal performance, but about the universe of songs and what he should be singing to best showcase his talents. Unlike the crop of 16 year olds year in and year out who say things like "oh, I was born 35 years after the fifties ended and so I just picked a song that sounded pretty," I get the sense that Daughtry is very knowledgeable and smart when it comes to picking songs.
O-O-H CHILD, THINGS ARE GONNA GET EASIER: I have a friend who had about the worst year you can imagine in 2005 -- a serious medical problem, a divorce from a philandering husband, and an unsettling move across the country. I have been working a "mix tape" compilation CD to cheer her up. Some of the songs likely to make the final cut:

"We Walk the Same Line" -- Everything But the Girl ("If you lose your faith, you can have mine")
"Many Rivers to Cross" -- Jimmy Cliff
"Nightswimming" -- R.E.M. (regret is a common theme in our communications)
"Who Knows Where the Time Goes" -- Judy Collins
"I Wish You Peace" -- The Eagles
and the title of this item

Any other suggestions?

LENNY BRISCOE WAS KINDA LIKE MAURICE TALLEYRAND, THOUGH: Has former L&O ADA Michael Moriarity gone insane? His letter to the editor in this week's New York referring to people as being "minor raccoons swept up in the rabies of American careerism" could serve as Exhibit A for the prosecution.
NOW COMPLETING THE PRESCHOOL TRIFECTA: Because we all know that no child watches Sesame Street before the age of 2 (raise your hand if your kid learned to say "Elmo" before "Mama"), it is both shocking and horrifying to learn that Sesame Workshop has teamed up with a DC child development non-profit to create Sesame Beginnings, a DVD set for the 6-24 month crowd. Unsurprisingly, the experts are in a tizzy.
THE SURVIVAL OF EVERYONE ON BOARD DEPENDS ON JUST ONE THING -- FINDING SOMEONE ON BOARD WHO CAN NOT ONLY FLY THIS PLANE, BUT WHO DIDN'T HAVE FISH FOR DINNER: How would you feel about airlines charging $15 more if you wanted to sit in an aisle or exit row seat?

Monday, March 20, 2006

PAGING OZMODIAR! The Simpsons has signed up for its 18th and 19th seasons, guaranteeing it will last at least until 2008 and its 400th episode.

Four hundred episodes. I mean, wow. It just remains a towering, almost incomprehsible cultural accomplishment, making animation cool for adults again and placing allusion and satire atop the humor mountaintop, for better or for worse. It started when I was a senior in high school, such that when the show reaches this milestone, it willhave been on the air for half my life. When it started, as that zany show about Rebellious "Eat My Shorts" Bart, could anyone have foreseen this?

(Put a depressing way, though, this means that by 2008, half the show's episodes will have taken place after Phil Hartman's death, post-Hutz, post-McClure.)

Watch the new UK trailer, and then, ummm . . . I mean, it's The Simpsons, people. Say something smart.

SHOCKED OR INTRIGUED? Starbucks has announced that "banana" is your special new Frappuccino flavor for Starbucks this summer, with banana cream, banana mocha and banana caramel frozen blended beverages expected.

I, for one, will be sticking with my off-list frapp preferences -- have you tried an almond or hazelnut frappuccino yet? Don't bother looking for it on the menu; just trust me that it's there.
SIT DOWN IN OUR THINKING CHAIR AND JUST THINK THINK THINK: Mr. Cosmopolitan and I were just discussing how ridiculously much Steve kicks Joe's ass on Blue's Clues. No offense to Joe or anything, but it's all about Steve. So imagine my consternation when I happened upon this picture of Steve in his post-Blue indie-rock incarnation. I have to confess that given this choice, I will select the past every time.

I realize that this is my second preschooler culture post in the last week. Apologies. Really.
GOOD LUCK, BROTHER -- SEE YOU IN ANOTHER LIFE, YEAH? So that was a unexpectedly freaky bit of crossover casting on 24 tonight. I guess we saw him last week as well, but it didn't register until tonight.

Two prominent features of 24: (1) I do love how they manage to end every episode with a new little cliffhanger -- it's very first-season-of-Alias in that regard, and (2) I find myself watching every character with skepticism: Will he turn out to be a mole? Will she? Who exactly is zoomin' who? The conclusion of this episode married these two tendencies nicely, don't you think?

(Sadly, I will not be posting about Prison Break, as my %&*@#%!!&^% Time Warner Cable DVR -- that's right, I dare to speak its name aloud -- chose tonight to pitch a hissy fit and do all sorts of things that did not involve recording Prison Break or HIMYM. I think my other DVR picked up HIMYM, but wasn't set for Prison Break. Feel free to let me know what happened.)

Edited to add: Here's an interesting Q&A with Prison Break's supervising producer.
HIS ONE-MAN VERSION OF HAMLET WAS NOT NOMINATED: Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Kevin Kline Awards, the awards show named after and with awards presented by Kevin Kline. Kline has not been nominated for a Kevin Kline Award, however. (The awards are for excellence in local theatre in St. Louis, Kline's home city.)
LET'S HOPE SHE LIVES TO GENTLY STALK ANOTHER DAY: Lots of fun stuff in a Grey's Anatomy episode with lots (but not a cluster) of dead people. Alex's "I have been bitterly rejected and thus must smack you around, little man" diatribe. George's efforts to stalk Christina into relinquishing the cap. Izzie's "I grew up in a trailer park and will kick your Beverly Hills ass" smackdown. Addison and several gallons of Swiss Miss. The revelation of additional layers of the always-intriguing Ellis-Richard backstory. And, of course, the little tics that make all of us obsessive-compulsive in some manner or another, not just the guy who needs to flip the light switch 96 times. Something for everyone in last night's episode, regardless of who your preferred characters are.
BEST USE OF TWO YALE DRAMA GRADS OF ALL TIME: Don't really have the time to post this, but whatever. According to the Captivate Network (torturing imprisoned office workers with yesterday's news since 2002), Perfect Strangers debuted 20 years ago this approximate week or month, depending upon the accuracy and timeliness of Captivate's factoid. Even more amazing, it ran for seven seasons. That's right, more than twice as many seasons as Arrested Development and seven times as many seasons as Freaks and Geeks.

Once, when visiting LA long before I moved here, a friend and I were roped into seeing a taping of a "hit TV show." It turned out to be Perfect Strangers, and I believe that the whole process of attendance violated the Geneva Conventions. We were put on a bus, sent out to the Valley somewhere, warmed up (in theory) by exactly the kind of stand-up comedian that you would expect to open for Perfect Strangers, and force-fed take after take of Balki and Larry getting stuck in an elevator. The worst thing about it was the unhinged-looking girl in the front row with clothes about 10 years out of date who went into hysterics every time Bronson Pinchot appeared and who carried a sign that said "Balki I [heart] You." I guess there's a stalker for every star. It's hard to believe that happened 15 or 20 years ago, but I'll take the fact that I can't imagine this happening today as a sign that the world is a better place.
MAKING LORELAI GILMORE SEEM LIKE A SLOW TALKER: Though I didn't do formal college debate and did relatively little high school debate, I found yesterday's Times Magazine article about the success of Liberty University's debate teams fascinating. Perhaps my favorite tidbit is that the top-tier debaters talk at 350 to 400 words a minute.
WE ALL GET OLDER; HE STAYS THE SAME AGE: Is Jeffrey Wells correct when he writes of Matthew McConaughey:
I'm developing an idea that Matthew McConaughey is a kind of anti-Christ. I'm 35% to 40% serious. He may not be the Satanic emissary of our times, but I honestly believe if and when the real devil rises up from those sulfur caverns and begins to walk the earth, he'll look and behave exactly like McConaughey.

He's not just the absolute nadir of empty-vessel pretty boy actors. I'm talking about an almost startling inner quality that transcends mere shallowness. It's there in McConaughey's eyes . . . eyes that look out at the wonder and terror of life but do nothing but scan for opportunity . . . something or someone to hustle or seduce or make a buck off. Eyes that convey a Maynard G. Krebs-like revulsion at the idea that life may finally be about something you can't touch, taste or own.

He has the soul of a Texas bartender who dabbles in real estate and has an overly made-up and undereducated girlfriend who drops by at the end of a shift to give him a lift home, except that he tends to ignore her when there's a good game on and all his empty-ass buddies are there . . . a bartender who will clean shot glasses for 20 minutes before looking in your direction . . . a guy with a thin voice and a hey-buddy Texas drawl who sorta kinda needs to be stabbed with a screwdriver.

And from there, Wells says what he really thinks.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

IN-BETWEEN DAYS: Forty-six years old. Fall. Kevin Finnerty. American Girl. Monks. So much to discuss.

edited to add: Sepinwall tries to make some sense of it, including a call to "give Edie Falco the Emmy right now. Just give it to her. Seriously. Do not pass Go, do not collect other nominations, just ship the statuette to her apartment today. There is no way any other actress on television is going to have two better scenes this year than . . . ." well, if you haven't seen it, I'm not going to spoil it.
CONSIDER THIS AN ANNOTATED VERSION OF 'THE OFFICE': Come, gather 'round children, and hear the tale of Der Stuwwelpeter, a favorite of The Wife's. I believe this page was Dwight's selection.

(Seriously, everything I've said about 'The Office' being the saddest funny show on tv, or the funniest sad show, was triply true this week.)