Saturday, September 30, 2006

ALL OF US WERE ORDINARY, COMPARED TO CYNTHIA ROSE: Because unlike Isaac, I do not make it my goal to creep you out, let me take you back to September 1997, when The Artist Then Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (or ) appeared on the short-lived series Muppets Tonight. He played some songs. You'll like this.
ANOTHER WEEKEND GIFT TO YOU: Last week's gift was the creepiest G-rated photo album I have ever seen. My analyst/therapist says that to excise a traumatic event from one's mind, one must undergo an even more traumatic event. He says he can help me with that, whatever that means. On that note, this week's gift is the creepiest G-rated video I saw this week. I know that once Sports Guy has mentioned it I must be the last one to the party, but still, there must be some dance fans, and maybe some Little Hercules aficionados, out there who haven't seen this.
JAZZ FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE POP MUSIC: I do not recall that there has been much (any?) discussion of jazz on this blog, but I figured I would offer two suggestions that should appeal to all of us who love pop music. Both of these CDs feature piano trios.

Heralded pianist Brad Mehldau's "Day is Done" features covers of two Beatles tunes, "She's Leaving Home" from Sgt. Pepper's and "Martha My Dear" from The White Album, Radiohead's "Knives Out", Nick Drake's "Day Is Done", and Paul Simon's hit "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover". A comment on amazon sums things up:

“It's not merely that he has chops to burn, although that is certainly the case; it's that he finds unusual and serendipitous musical contexts to unfold and display his genius that other pianists fail to locate.”

I may in fact prefer a similar CD by David Hazeltine called “Modern Standards”, which features versions of “Yesterday”, “For the Love of You” by the Isley Brothers, and a swinging version of “How Deep is Your Love” that will make you rethink the original. While Mehldau has an occasional tendency to play in an astringent manner, I find every one of Hazeltine’s performances emotionally satisfying.

DID YA MISS ME? Having returned from Disney World, I will not offer a lengthy list of Hot Disney Things or a list of Top Seven Must-Sees at the Walt Disney World Resort (shut up, Stacy--you know what I mean if you've been there in recent years). A few thoughts:
  • Animal Kingdom is a nice concept, but isn't really a full-fledged park right now-it's a zoo (though a very well done and designed zoo) with a few rides tacked in. Not being a roller coaster person, I didn't ride the Everest ride, the park's big attraction, but really not a lot to do, especially since the hot show at the park is a Lion King inspired show that mixes Taymor's Broadway production with more than a little Cirque du Soleil, managing to strip most of Taymor's theatrical magic from the show.
  • Epcot has some brilliant stuff (Soarin' is just extraordinary--possibly the most innovative ride design I've experienced, and Mission Space (at least the "green" version) is well-done without being excessive), but World Showcase continues to need work. Yes, the food and shopping is top-notch throughout, but there are only so many "look at the beauty of my country!" films one can experience (and the Canada one really needs to be updated--it's from the 70s). One note--once the new Nemo-themed attraction opens in the Seas pavilion, it's going to be a nightmare in there--lines for the Crush show were 30-40 minutes at times, and that's without any ride or anything to draw folks in.
  • Even though I didn't do Tower of Terror or the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster, MGM may well have been my favorite--lots of little details pitched to adults. One problem--why doesn't Disney leverage ABC at all? Replace the Indiana Jones Stunt Show (fun, but dated) with Sydney Bristow. Give us Dr. McDreamy's Emotional Roller Coaster (first you go one direction, then the other, and you conclude by leaning against things and being shouted at by the voice of Miranda Bailey), the Craphole Island Adventure (dodge polar bears, The Others, and Lostzilla!), and a walking tour down Wisteria Lane. Also, the night show at MGM, Fantasmic!, is excellent. Also, sure to impress friends of the blog, I was within 10 feet of Dan Zanes (whom I recognized solely because of the promotional photos all over the park for his conert) at one point, who was signing autographs for an adoring fan.
  • The Magic Kingdom was generally excellent, though a bit odd. While ordinarily, the long lines build at the "Mountains," because of the time I went, preschool attractions, like Winnie The Pooh and Peter Pan, had the long waits (40 minutes). Best ride? The Buzz Lightyear one, which takes the classic "slow-moving vehicle on conveyor belt" ride, and mixes it with a shooting gallery and a score display. A little too day-glo, but still a ton of fun.
  • Two fashion notes. Tim Gunn would be horrified by just how many pairs of Crocs I saw. Also, unacceptable both on the Amazing Race and at Disney World? Custom-made matching/coordinated t-shirts for your party. (Everyone wearing the same color t-shirt? OK. Custom-made shirts with extensive monogramming and infringing graphic designs? Not OK.)
  • Finally, there's a fine fine line between adorable, disturbing, and annoying. I am still attempting to figure out in which of those sectors the spontaneous rendition of "We Will Rock You" from a bunch of 7-9 year olds in the Italy Section of World Showcase falls.
NYAH NYAH NYAH NYAH NYAH NYAH, I MADE YOU RUN A CORRECTION: I complain, the Times responds in the Magazine today:
CORRECTION: An article on Sept. 17 about the abundance of satire in American culture referred incorrectly to an episode of "South Park." In it, the character Cartman tricks another child into eating his own parents in a bowl of chili; Cartman himself does not eat them.
No apology yet from Bill Carter, however . . .

Friday, September 29, 2006

AT THE DOOR: There's a flipside question to our "who's the youngest pre-written obit?" question from yesterday that we've been discussing over at Immodest Proposals: whose obituary is, at present, the most stale? By which I mean -- the person's obituary was pre-written a long time ago; the subject remains alive; and there hasn't been anything new in the person's life for years which would require an update of the obituary. Essentially, we're looking for people for whom active public engagement has long since passed, and for whom they just need to insert a "died today following . . . " at the end of the first sentence in order to have a publishable piece.

On that, Lady Bird Johnson sprung to mind, but I imagine you have some thoughts on this one as well.
DRIP, DRIP, DRIP . . . What if a team's playoff hopes ended, but no one stayed up late enough to watch?

The Phils-Nats game didn't start until 11:32 pm because of a 4 1/2 hour rain delay, and I made it up until about 1 am (saw Burrell's gunning of Church) before crashing -- not that I stayed up for the Mitch Williams 4:40 am doubleheader in 1993 either. But what an odd, spirited little crowd of Phillies fans who stood by the Phightins at RFK:
[I]t was more of a carnival than a funeral. A crowd of a couple of hundred endured - and almost all of them were Phillies fans, it seemed. For most of the night, they had no problem entertaining themselves. At one point, they booed the Nationals' pathetic excuse for a mascot and chanted, "You're no Phanatic." Later, they booed the pathetic excuse for Thomas Jefferson who fell down twice in a race of big-headed presidential mascots - after, that is, they greeted the big-heads with a serenade to the Phillies' expert on all races of mascots: "Ran-dall Simon ... Ran-dall Simon ... "

The hour lent itself to all such goofiness, even as the stakes for the Phillies were beyond serious. If you want to compare atmospheres of big games that ran past 2 a.m, this was nothing like the five-overtime Flyers playoff game against Pittsburgh in 2000. That was all sweat and tension until Keith Primeau finally scored for the Flyers. This was different. This was, well, an adventure. Only in the last couple of innings did the import of the outcome really trump the scene.

At 2:07 am last night, the Phillies season just about ended. Again.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

IF YOU'RE GOOD TO MOMMA, MOMMA'S GOOD TO YOU: For all the slow murkiness of last week's Grey's, this week was the lickety-splickety snappy pattery dirty muffiny philandering stripping goodness that we've come to expect and love. Who made you smile the most?
LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE TOOK THE SLOW TRAIN FROM PHILLY: Gratuitous Brotherly Love bashing, hookers, a big Bus and a geographically-incorrect train, since you can't ride Amtrak from anywhere near Scranton. Yes, it's The Office weekly thread, and the first drink is on the house.
THE SECTION EVERYONE'S DYING TO GET INTO: Fascinating Q&A in the Times today with Bill McDonald, editor of the Obituaries page. An excerpt:
Q. Dear (Kill) Bill, Oprah, Ellen, Richard Pryor, Belushi and, well Regis. How far in advance do you prepare the obit? And that lead-time is a function of what? -- Arnold Tracey

A. "Kill Bill": That's a new one. Not bad.

But: How far in advance. That's a good, tricky question. This is probably one of the only newspaper editing jobs in the country in which you have to think like an actuary. So age, yes; health, yes; external risk factors, yes (a well-known mobster might get one earlier in the game). But prominence is also a major consideration. We wouldn't necessarily wait for an ex-president of the United States to write his memoirs before assigning the "advance." We might jump on that one while he's in office, just in case.

But we also have to be mindful of not writing the obit prematurely. Mark Twain said something memorable about that, but that's not what I mean. I mean we don't necessarily want to write the advance obit while the subject is still in full flower, is still out there adding to his or her legacy, doing things, building things, making things. We'd rather write about them when their essential work — that which they'll be remembered for — is done. Otherwise the obit is likely to grow old and stale and require a rewrite 10 years down the road. Why bother now?

. . . We try to write as many as we can, but there are inevitably many we can't get to — or can't get to yet. So we have to approach the task as battlefield triage — tending to the most aged and the supremely important first, and then hoping the others can hang on a little longer until we can get to them.

So, readers, this question -- who is the youngest person for whom you figure the Times obit has already been prepared? Courtney Love? Andy Dick?
I WOULD HAVE HAD THIS POST UP EARLIER BUT I JUST GOT OFF A THREE-AND-A-HALF-HOUR PHONE CALL: And I'd still be on it too, if it weren't for those bitches.

Look, my complaint about America's Next Top Model-Like Substance remains the same. It's not that hard to get this right. The whole point is to find the prettiest tall skinny girl who takes good pictures, wears clothes gracefully, and can walk a runway. You have to trust that the competition to satisfy that goal -- and all of the runway-stumbling, jazz-hands mugging, pixellated cavorting, nudity-dodging, white-girl rapping, sadistic dentistry, bacterial flesh-eating, and voluntary diaper-peeing that flows organically from it (pun intended) -- will take care of the conflict for you, and you'll end up with a show that is (a) entertaining; and (b) packed to the gills with attractive women. Believe it or not, on television, some consider attractive women a plus.

In other words, quit rigging the eliminations to satisfy perceived ratings needs (some time later this season I'll also request that Tyra be denied the franchise, but that's not this week). Don't get me wrong, I don't think the eliminated contestant was going to win. But she certainly could have made it to the middle weeks. Instead, she got mixed up in the bottom two with the Sponsor's Conflict Exemption, and the desire for yelling and pointing and stepping off trounced the aesthetic merits, and we -- the appreciators of elongated lesbians who lounge about in metallic bikinis -- are the real losers here.
A UNIFIED THEORY OF POP CULTURE THAT BOWLING FOR SOUP WOULD ADMIRE: In our recent discussion about the best CDs of the past 20 years, it appeared that the consensus was that the top CDs released between 1986 and 2006 could not hold a candle to those released between 1966 and 1986. Then, in yesterday's discussion about Chevy Chase it appeared that there was a consensus that his career took a sharp downturn around 1986. Notably, both discussions touched upon the CD "Graceland" (e.g., Chevy Chase's work in the video for "You Can Call Me Al")

Although this blog has not discussed the topic, I would assume that we would generally agree that the movies released during the period from 1966 to 1986 were materially better than those released in the past 20 years. The earlier period includes what many consider the golden age of cinema.

On the other hand, I think that we would all agree that the televison shows of the past 20 years are vastly better than those of the earlier period.
DEAR AMERICAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION: Many more of us would watch the exceedingly well-reviewed Ugly Betty tonight if you didn't schedule it directly against The Office, let along Earl and Survivor.

So thank you, thank you ABC for scheduling rebroadcasts on the Family Channel and the Soap Network over the next few days. This is something that more networks need to do -- heck, if you put it on at 3am on a Wednesday, anyone with a DVR can find it. If only CBS did the same with Survivor . . .

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

NOBODY'S HAPPIER THAN I AM: Okay, four people are ... five, counting Tim, but I wouldn't have been able to pick the "loser" from this week's Final Four.

Two obvious winners, and two obvious also-rans, to be sure, but those were some damn good also-rans over the length of the competition and I love the "80% darkness" of the one most of you love to hate.

Your comments will likely be more interesting than any further expressions of my overflowing relief, so have at it. Just know that I'm going to giggle at any former haters who start loving-up on Jeffrey now that he's won Father Of The Year and pranced about in Uli's half-finished frock.
YOU KNOW THEY GOT A HELL OF A BAND: How's this for an odd musical death trio? First, as Adam noted, Dan Flores, the man shouted "Tequila!" on the song by the same name slipped this mortal worm.

Now comes news that songwriter Paul Vance, who wrote "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" has donned his last swimsuit, and Sir Malcolm Arnold, the composer who wrote the score to "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" (go ahead and start whistling) has fallen on his last detonator.

A Paul Vance died, just not that Paul Vance. The Paul Vance did claim for years, even lying to his wife, that he was that Paul Vance. Confused? This ought to sort it out for you.

Luckily, though not for him, Flores and Arnold can jam with original Bad Company bassist Boz Burrell, who reports indicate was, in fact, bad company up until the day he died.
I WIN, I WIN! I purposely have avoided linking to this clever contest by Coudal Partners because I am a selfish bastard and wanted a copy of the new Bob Dylan album. But now that I won, not only do I want to brag, I figure everyone deserves a chance.

The challenge is to link Bob Dylan six-degrees style to random people/characters of renown like Condi Rice, Sid Vicious, and Bob Marley. You can win by either doing it in the least amount of links or by being creative within six links. My winning entry linking Bob to Bugs Bunny is here.

The current challenge is to link Bob to Beckham.
T.O.: I've certainly had mixed feelings about Terrell Owens over the past few years, but today's sad news only makes me want to pray for his full recovery -- of body, mind and spirit, taking whatever time he needs -- and I hope that we can all see a healthy Owens back on the field before too long. (I'm not kidding.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

EVERYBODY LIES. EVEN HIZZY? So, I've been doing some Googling, and I don't believe that Coccidioides immitis causes what Dr. House said it did. So, was he lying to the patient, or were the writers lying to us?

No new episodes until Halloween. Grr.
IN THE POP CULTURE UNIVERSE, HIS CAREER IS REPRESENTED BY TWO SEPARATE AND UNEQUALLY IMPORTANT PARTS; 1975-1985, WHICH WAS PRETTY COOL, AND THE LAST TWO DECADES, WHICH WERE UNMITIGATED CRAP. THIS IS MY BLOG POST: It's about time that Chevy Chase did something worth watching, even if it's just a particularly timely Law & Order guest role as a celebrity arrested for a DUI who starts speaking ill of members of other religions.
DESIGNERS, I'M GOING TO ASK YOU TO ALL GATHER AROUND FOR A MOMENT: So, here's the deal -- after last week's rerun and this week's Final Four competition, Project Runway goes Reunion, The Week Where They Make The Final Collections and Week Where They Show The Final Collections And We See Who Wins, meaning that this season's not ending until October 18.

How do we fill the time? By reading gossip about a potential finals rules infraction and things like Tim Gunn's chat with WaPo readers, which included the revelation that this season took just 32 days to film all eleven challenges (other than the finals), and this query:
Bethesda, Md.: Ok...please settle this debate. What color shoes should a man wear with a navy suit?

Tim Gunn: I say black. Does anyone want a debate?

Also: I've really enjoyed this season, but it's not quite as gripping as the first two. Is it that we don't have characters as gripping as Austin/Jay and Santino/Andrae/TheDaniels, or that something's changed about the show, or that it's too formulaic, or that I'm completely wrong?
WE DON'T NEED ANOTH -- OH, ACTUALLY, WE COULD USE ANOTHER HERO: Say you're sick, and rather than staying up for S60 you're hunkering down to watch it in bed, and your clock says it's on in 15 minutes, but your clock is exactly 16 minutes fast so that you can hit snooze twice and still get up at exactly 6:02, and you turn the channel to NBC so that if you accidentally pass out, you can just rewind the TiVo and not miss anything. Then you basically pay little attention to what's going on on the tube (reading about the Fighting 442nd), noting that it involves some people that seem totally unrelated to each other, and -- assuming that this is Six Degrees -- you pay no attention. Then you see the tortured lab guy from Scrubs speaking Japanese, and you're at least mildly interested. And then Ali Larter's mirror image kills somebody, and you're thinking this is intriguing. And then Hayden "Purveyor of Bread" Panettiere mangles up her hand and just as quickly fixes it, and you remember that this is Heroes, and all along you were going to tape this because Sepinwall said so.

Granted, I only actually paid attention to the last 15 minutes, but I was totally hooked enough that I'm going to remember to record the whole thing tonight (in the TiVo age, rerunning pilots is very smart). What's not to like? A Lost-like mythology, some likeable characters and actors, Road to Perdition-like production design, a disaster-prone cheerleader who suffers a you-killed-Kenny mangling a few times every episode, and a superhero story. I'm a sucker for reinterpretations of the superhero myth (I loved Unbreakable, for example), so I imagine I'm going to love this. Did anybody else watch?
AGAIN I ABUSE THE GOODWILL OF YOU, THE LOYAL ALOTT5MA READER, AS I POST A PERSONAL REQUEST FOR ADVICE: OK, so my son turns seven today and he wants a Gameboy because he is a big Pokemon fan. Do I go with the Gameboy SP or DS? Has anyone ever bought a used one at Gamespot (they're $80 new vs. $60 used for the SP and $130 vs. $100 for the DS)? Any other words of wisdom?

Monday, September 25, 2006

COULD YOU BE ANY MORE JEWISH? Our favorite TV expert Alan Sepinwall has lots of insightful things to say about tonight's Studio 60. Fortunately, none of them is the point I wanted to make.

Someone reasonably witty once said that Bull Durham is a major league movie about a minor league baseball team, while Major League is a minor league movie about a major league baseball team. Two episodes in, Studio 60 is a minor league TV show about a theoretically major league TV show, while Sports Night was a major league TV show about a theoretically minor league TV show.

Just one minor example, although there are many, many others. Clearly it's supposed to have been a big deal that Danny (Tripp, not Rydell) is going to let D.L. Hughley's Simon co-host the news. But this isn't The West Wing, where we fundamentally understand why a standoff in Kazakhstan or a nuclear plant blowing up in California is important (can you tell what I'm up to on the West Wing reruns on Bravo?) The only touchpoint we can draw an analogy to is hosting Weekend Update on SNL -- and I can hardly think of anything less resonant or less important to human existence than who's hosting Weekend Update. Simon getting to co-host the news doesn't need to be objectively important to make us care, but someone needs to give us a reason to care, and no one has.

So then there's Sports Night. When Jeremy gets the call, we don't need to have a view on whether a segment on hunting is intrinsically good or bad. All we need to know to make the issue important -- and the episode work -- is whether and why it's important to the show within the show and whether and why it's important to Jeremy. We understand the situation, we understand the characters and their motivations, and lo! the total objective unimportance of a segment about hunting on a SportsCenterish show becomes a critical issue and compelling television.

Yes, this is only the second episode of Studio 60. But you know what the second episode of Sports Night was? The Apology. And The Hungry and the Hunted (in which Jeremy gets the call but doesn't so much like the hunting) came third.

Tonight's bulletpoints:
  • Still think Perry is far and away the best part of the show. Loved every instant of the bit with the clock, which was as perfect a Sorkin narrative thread as he's ever written.
  • Very glad that Whitford got the Chandler line instead of Perry.
  • I've never seen Sarah Paulson in anything before -- I am so not feeling the love.
  • Whitford definitely dyed his hair.
  • Peet looked less luminous tonight -- which took away the thing that had been distracting me from the fact that she comes across as totally clueless instead of as the president of a major network. (Which perhaps is supposed to be a statement on presidents of major networks, but I don't think so.)
  • Ditto everything Sepinwall said about the Gilbert & Sullivan number.
  • I cannot get past the silliness of the notion that a Friday 11:30 pm comedy show is somehow the "flagship" of an entire major network.
  • In two episodes, we haven't seen a single thing to make me think that "The Big Three" have an iota of talent among them.
  • Wow, Matthew Perry is good.

I am continuing to reserve final judgment on the show until we get past the episodes that have been widely dissected in the media prior to their airing. And don't get me wrong -- I'm planning to keep watching no matter how many complaints I have, because bits like the countdown clock are worth the price of admission. But so far, I feel the same way about Schlamme and Sorkin as I do about Danny and Matt -- I hope they can do better.

THE FOILS: Adam Sternbergh, occasionally known as Fametracker's The Man from F.U.N.K.L.E., would like you to stop and appreciate now-former SNLer Chris Parnell. Indeed, few have been better at portraying an uptight white guy. Or a centaur.
CUE PEE-WEE DANCE: Danny Flores, the saxophonist best (and only) known for playing the saxophone and shouting "Tequila!" during the song of the same name, has died at the age of 77.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

YES, BUT HOW COULD THEY GUARANTEE THAT THE NOMADS WOULD STILL BE THERE? Just an outstanding leg of The Race Of Amazement: Edition X, in which some of our favorite TAR standards return with a vengeance -- uncontrollable animals, less controllable automobiles, Ferns, language barriers, and a final task that reminded me of the boomerang task from Season Two in its potential frustration factor. And boy, did it deliver.

We've got three teams at the top who aren't much of a surprise, and I do really like Team My Daughtah Is A Quee-ah, but am increasingly annoyed with . . . well, I think there's a limit to how much supportiveness one can take, isn't there? Killer fatigue starts to rear its lovely head, but if you've got the energy join us in the Comments.