Saturday, May 26, 2007

"IF YOU WANT SOMEONE TO COME AROUND TO YOUR POINT OF VIEW, IT'S NOT WISE TO CURSE AND THEN TELL THEM THEY'RE IDIOTS:" The year's not even halfway through yet, but this profile of Judd Apatow (and his posse) in the NYT Magazine is a contender for the ALOTT5MA-y for Outstanding Magazine Profile. Two particularly interesting observations in there worth discussing:
  • Aren't The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, for all their explicit content, essentially morally conservative films? One is about a guy saving himself for true love, and the other is about the need/desire to a make a relationship work "for the kids."
  • While the comedy in vogue in the late 90s (Sandler, Carrey) took the "I'm a loser, so let me exert my rage on someone else" angle, Apatow's films (both as writer, director, and producer) are about internalized rage and self-loathing rather than the desire to hurt someone else.

The observation in the title (from Apatow in the article) also strikes me as a significant lesson (and one I'll freely admit I've had my difficulties learning and implementing) in a wide variety of areas, including, but not limited to, politics, but that's for another blog.

"HAS ANYONE HERE ACTUALLY SEEN A FOOD STAMP?" Amherst College President Tony Marx has made it a mission to recruit more low-income students to campus and give them the resources to thrive. Sunday's NYT highlights Anthony Abraham Jack, a member of the class of 2007 graduating this weekend, who was raised as one of the children by a single mom earning $26,000 a year as a school security guard, and who during his four years at the Fairest College earned one of only ten A+ grades in Calculus in the past thirty years and became the College's Rhodes Scholarship nominee this year.

Do read Jack's own words, in which he convincingly argues he did not come "from the bottom to the top". May he and his classmates fulfill the College's motto, Terras Irradient, and give much light to the world.
TRYIN' HARD TO LOOK LIKE GARY COOPER: And we have a winner in the category of "largest ratio between length of Wikipedia entry (approximately 1,300 words) and actual importance"--yes, Wikipedia has an entry for Taco Ockerse, which discloses not only his last name, but that there is a Best of Taco album with contains 16 tracks, only one of which is any version of "Puttin' On The Ritz."
MEMORIES ARE JUST WHERE YOU LAID THEM: In an all-Idol special edition of Entertainment Weekly, they've again tried to rank the Top Ten All-Time Idol Performances, a feat they last attempted in 2005. Here goes:
  1. Carrie Underwood, "Alone" (top ten, sure. #1?)
  2. Kelly Clarkson, "Stuff Like That There"
  3. Clay Aiken, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (Ease! Your! Mind! I still prefer That Immigrant Mouse Song)
  4. Fantasia Barrino, "Summertime" (either this or the Clarkson is my #1)
  5. Jennifer Hudson, "Weekend In New England". (I just cited this for the quintessential Idol Glory Note. Last time, the EW folks listed "Circle of Life" instead. Toss-up.)
  6. Chris Daughtry, "Hemorrhage (In My Hands)". (That's how you introduce yourself in the semis.)
  7. Melinda Doolittle, "My Funny Valentine". (Ditto. 2007's best performance?)
  8. Elliot Yamin, "A Song For You". (Odd. Where's my Constantine? Where's Bo?)
  9. Ruben Studdard, "Nights On Broadway". (No, no, no, and not just because I can only think of the Barry Gibb Talk Show when I hear it now. "Superstar".)
  10. Katharine McPhee, "Over the Rainbow". (Over "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"?)
Most egregious omission? No Tamyra Gray, no Jordin Sparks, and I also have a soft spot for Paris Bennett's "Midnight Train To Georgia", which I think exemplifies that which Melinda was missing this season. They've also got a worst list, which I'll blog about later, but I should note that this is on it.
HOGZILLA II - SON OF HOGZILLA: CNN is reporting a story today, out of Alabama, about a kid who shot and killed a 1000 pound wild boar: Eleven years old (the kid). Five shots from a handgun. Chased it for more than three miles. CNN notes that the feat has earned him a cameo in an upcoming film about a slightly smaller beast, slain in Georgia a few years ago.

When it comes to hunting though, many of us city dwellers are pristinely (and contentedly) ignorant. I have contrasting images of the activity in my head, to say the least.

The first, probably, is of De Niro pursuing the big buck up on the ridge lines in The Deer Hunter. The next, inevitably, is some variation of the Dick Cheney / Canned Pheasant / Birdshot-in-the-Grill scenario. The former feels like a primal, noble activity that celebrates man's ancient ties to the land and his struggle to survive upon it. (I know that sounds suspiciously like Ted Nugent propaganda. Just deal with it.) The latter -- including related activities like shining deer with high-beams or shooting them at feeders installed on fenced-in acres of scrub oak and mesquite -- on the other hand... what is that? Thrill killing hiding in the garb of a right of manhood?

Then there is the commercial middle ground, which aggressively muddles the sporting aspect with testosterone. Check out the two promotional clips at the following link, by the folks at Nodak Outdoors. These guys are obviously very good at what they do, and whoever did the sound design for their vids was really smart about making sure the waterfowl remained audible over the speed metal. Freaky fresh explicit harvest action.

By any philosophical measure, this kid has got to feel like the king of the world. (Even if "The Legend of Hogzilla" isn't the beginning of an A-List film career.) Still, kind of sad. I can't get the boar god from Princess Mononoke out of my head.
OUR TOWN IS DOPE AND PRETTY, SO CHECK OUT HOW WE LIVE IN THE ELECTRIC CITY: It's a big week for the greater Scranton-Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area. Not only is Roger Clemens pitching there on Monday in preparation for his return to the majors, but Sunday's Times features an extensive story (not yet up on the Interweb) about how Paul Sorvino (yes, that Paul Sorvino) is attempting to make Scranton into a new American film-making center.

Friday, May 25, 2007 - More Sports - The New Main Event (cont.) - Tuesday May 22, 2007 9:11AM

"THERE'S NO B.S. TWO GUYS ARE STRIPPED DOWN. ONE WINS, ONE LOSES. WHERE ELSE DO YOU GET THAT ANYMORE?" Trying to keep all of us only a step or two behind The Kids These Days, Sports Illustrated's L. Jon Wertheim explores the increasingly-hyped world of "ultimate fighting", so that maybe we can figure out why retired NFL wide receiver Johnnie Morton is jumping into the octagon in a few weeks.

2006-07 primetime wrap

RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU HAD NO IDEA KING OF THE HILL WAS STILL ON THE AIR: The overall 2006-07 Nielsen ratings are now available, including the 18-49 ranks. The top two scripted shows, CSI and Grey's Anatomy, are on in the same slot. Go figure.
OFF THE LOT: If it wasn't obvious by her absence during last night's episode, Chelsea Handler is being replaced as the host of On The Lot. However, there's now a slot open on The View that might be a nice fit for her . . .
MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU: 30 years ago today, Star Wars arrived in just 30 theatres nationwide, while today, Pirates 3 arrives on 4,362 screens (the widest release ever), and even "small film" Bug opens on 1,661 screens. Discuss the awesomeness of the first three films, the general suckiness of the prequels, or lament how the movie biz has changed in the past 3 decades.

e.t.a. by adam: Eddie Copeland is hosting a blog-a-thon today with a wealth of essays on the Star Wars double-trilogy.
ADAM, WHERE DOES MUKTUK COME FROM? I'm glad you asked. Anchorage's KTUU Channel 2 News traveled to the northernmost settlement in North America, remote Barrow, Alaska, to do a three-part series this week on chasing the bowhead whale (I, II, III). Regardless of all the health warnings and other coverage we've given in the past, it's worth remembering (as these pieces demonstrate) that this is really about community and tradition more than anything else. It takes a village to eat an entire whale.
DON'T INSULT THE PROPHANDS: I'm not sure what the rest of y'all thought (though Alan seems to generally follow my train), but I thought the return of Studio 60 was a reminder of what the show could and should have been. Sure, the problems are still there--yet another endless discussion of "Harriet and Matt" hurt in the third act, and the "Simon has to find a date" thread was bad Noel Coward. But the show worked better than it probably has since the pilot, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the absence of several major characters, and certainly because of Allison Janney playing a high-wire act incredibly well (Janney for "Best Guest Actress" anyone?). What did everyone else think?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

PLEASE LEAVE YOUR KEY CARD AND LAMINATED BADGE AT RECEPTION, WHERE YOU MAY PICK UP YOUR GOLD WATCH: Today we bid a fond farewell and good luck to two retiring pop culture titans.

First, Bat Girl, the long-time Minnesota Twins blogger, is hanging up her spikes.* Bat Girl was among an elite handful of widely-read and deeply-loved baseball bloggers, and might be remembered most fondly for her Lego reenactments of key plays and events. Bat Girl is leaving us because she thinks you can't write a blog well while chasing after a young-un. There you go -- Adam, Alex, Bob, KCosmo, Kingsley, Pathetic Earthling, and I are either bad bloggers or bad parents, and please don't tell us which. Matt and Phil -- can you watch the [kids/blog] for us?

Second, Timmy from Road Rules and RW/RR Challenge is hanging up his, uh, prolonged adolescence and lack of dignity? Timmy went on "a little show called Road Rules" ten years ago, in its second season (the one with the weird Scandanavian dude), and has been doing Challenges intermittently ever since. Now don't get me wrong, I like Timmy -- he's an affable guy. It does crack me up, though, that he made such a big serious deal out of his retirement, since apart from his genial humor, his highlight reel consists of looking like a doughier Prince Valiant and refusing to wear a Speedo on camera while conspicuously not joining Alton's "too well-endowed" explanation. Anyway, if any of you are looking to fill an open job with a kind of blandly-funny guy with a 10-year hole in his resume and no real skills, this is your lucky day.

*Hat tip: Deadspin. Also, sorry this post appears so similar to Deadspin's, but you try writing this thing without linking to the announcement and the Lego reenactments.
_ _ _ _ _ _: WILL'S CULOTTES? _ _ _ _ _ _: MERL'S KINGLY MIEN?: A slightly annotated (but unedited, except for the formatting, so don't blame me for the weird syntax) public service announcement for the large shaded area in the middle of our Venn Diagram of hyperlinguists (left circle) and game show aficionados (right circle):
I am really excited to announce that I am casting for a new game show by the creator of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune entitled Merv Griffin's Crosswords. If you know of anyone that is charismatic1, outgoing, and has a knack for crossword puzzles living in the Southern California vicinity2 (or plans to visit before Halloween) please forward this email along to them. Contestants will have the opportunity to win cash and vacations.

Prospective contestants must be:
  • Over the age of 18
  • Have not appeared on a reality or game show in the past 6 months
  • Does not know an employee of Merv Griffin's Crosswords, William Morris Agency3, or Merv Griffin Entertainment.
Please forward this email along to anyone you feel would be a great contestant for the show. Call 323.762.8282 to talk to me or any other member of the Contestant Department to find out more details and to set up an audition.

Warmest Regards, Kim Holtzman Sloan, Contestant Producer

1Please don't let this dissuade you. Have you met Ken Jennings?
2For a list of crosswords living in the Southern California vicinity, please consult the Southern California Directory of Crossword Addresses.
3This effectively disqualifies all Southern California residents.
SUMMER'S HERE AND THE TIME IS RIGHT: With Season Three of So You Think You Can Dance taking the stage tonight (a truly squeeeworthy event for the party faithful), it's time for the customary recap of this season's procedural modifications.

For those who are new to the show: SYTYCD is a more complicated competition to stage than AI because of that whole partner thing. During season one, both the partnerships and the dance styles were chosen at random every week, with some unfortunate side effects. The judges then chose the bottom three couples, and America eliminated one guy and one girl from those six after seeing their solo performances. Season two flipflopped the whole thing: the producers chose the partnerships and the dance styles, America picked the bottom three couples, and then the judges decided who would go home based on the solo performances. After some number of weeks (I don't remember exactly how many), the lesser dancers having been weeded out, the assignments went a little more random.

As for this season, the assignment structure will look similar to last year: once the crowd of dubiously talented aspirants are narrowed to the final 20, the first five weeks will have partnerships determined by skill level (whatever that means), and random assignments for both pairings and styles thereafter.

From what I can tell, there are only two significant changes. First, it looks like the prize money has been bumped up from $100k to $250k. (No word as to whether America's Favorite Dancer will get a job out of his or her win, given that last season's winner Benji Schwimmer wisely turned down that aspect of his prize.) Second, instead of creator-executive-producer-impresario-former-dancer Nigel Lythgoe serving as the only regular judge with an array of choreographers rotating through the other two seats, it looks like SYTYCD's resident ballroom expert and supersonic shrieker Mary Murphy will permanently take over the Paula seat, leaving only one seat open for the Karaty/Michaels/Sparks rotation. This is, as we like to say here in the professional dance biz, a bummer. Murphy is easily the least expressive and articulate arrow in SYTYCD's regular quiver of choreographer/judges -- her presence on the panel week in and week out will almost certainly erode the quality of the judging. But admittedly, this is a small nit to pick in the grand scheme of things.

Be on the lookout during the early episodes for a couple of familiar names: apparently both Schwimmer's sister (how many dancers are in that family, anyway??) and 2006 runner-up Travis Wall's brother are auditioning this time around.
TODAY'S PRACTICE TIP: Yes, even if the judge calls your position on submitting a consent order "stupid" and launches into a monologue about how "nothing happens in this city in August" (really happened to me, seriously), you should probably avoid calling the judge "a few fries short of a Happy Meal" in open court.
IT'S NOT GOING TO BE A VERY GOOD SHOW TONIGHT. I THINK YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL, CHANGE THE CHANNEL RIGHT NOW OR BETTER YET TURN OFF THE TV: You (may have) waited three months; wait no longer: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip returns to tv tonight for the first of six new episodes to close out the series, and depending on how they go and how bored we get, we might blog about them. Explains Craig D. Lindsey: "Yeah, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a bad show, but it's a fascinatingly, mind-blowingly bad show. It's an entire TV program fueled by one man's stubborn, egotistical belief that you should bow down at his feet, for he's a freakin' genius. Never has something that sucked so hard been so riveting."

"Cheeseburger, I Hold" | Inquirer | 05/21/2007

HUNGRY MAN FOR HIRE: Five years after The Cheesesteak Project, the Inq's Craig LaBan set off to find Philadelphia's best cheeseburger. He ended up with this list of favorites, the top two of which also being my own favorites, with two more I've never tried within a block (!!) of my office. Oh, and he filmed a music video about it.
BUCKLE UP: I'd say this guy's new PSA makes a good case for it.
THE PATHETIC EARTHLING HAD THE DINNER WITH THE SPACECLAN IN THE LOS ANGELES: I had a lovely dinner with Isaac and his collective spaceclan when I was in Los Angeles Monday night (thanks, spacepeople!). Reminded me of a few things this fourth generation Bay Arean (and fifth generation Californian) has strong opinions about about Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Radio is Great. In the 30 minute drive between downtown LA and Spacecentral, I scanned all the way through the radio dial maybe five times. With almost no dead air on LA airwaves, you can't help but hit everything: Evangelical ministries, Classic Rock, Modern Country, Tejano, Vietnamese Talk Radio (I believe I heard and comprehended the proper name 'Nguyen'). Plus, I heard Eddie Grant's "Electric Avenue" -- a damned fine drive.

Driving Freeways in LA is Fun. I take the train into San Francisco, as I have my entire career. But an occasional slog through traffic is refreshing. But I'd hate to do it on a regular basis, and not least trying to do it from, say, Upland. But a drive from downtown to West Hollywood was still fun.

As Isaac noted a few weeks back, LA is full of Z-list celebrities. It's also full of Z-list locations. I saw a couple of coffee shops that I'm sure were in something. And I'm not sure I had previously laid eyes on Pershing Square in person, but my room at the Biltmore overlooked it last night. I couldn't help but ask myself: What do you do?

Vin Scully, may God forgive his Dodger-loving soul, is a freaking great baseball announcer.

On the other hand:
"The" N-freeway Number. Here in the Bay Area, I drive on "Highway 24." Or "24". In LA, it's "The 110." I want to strangle someone when I hear that. If necessary even myself.

The Celebrity Lickspittle B-Roll on Local LA News. The news on Monday night was about these folks fired in New Hampshire for gossiping in work. So, of course, once they had run through the material from the folks involved in the case, Channel 7 runs as many office scenes from movies as possible while describing the story. Both 9 to 5 and Office Space made an appearance. Everything short of Glengarry Glen Ross.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

ATTENTION OTHERS, COME IN OTHERS: And here I was, thinking The Nine had been cancelled. I have to say, my brain hurts. I'm sitting here trying to come up with something insightful yet non-spoilery to say rather than just shepherding everyone to the comments in a Moseslike fashion. And . . . that's all I got. See you in the comments.
EXCUSE ME DOUG E. FRESH, YOU'RE ON: Just swinging by between AI and Lost to open up a thread for anyone who might want to comment on the inexplicable absence of Paul McCartney, the fact that Kelly Clarkson has apparently morphed into Alanis Morissette circa 1995, the last-ditch efforts of this year's finalists to remind America of their existence, or, ya know, the person who won.

I'll be back after Lost.
[DON'T] F**K THE DRAFT: A month ago, the most popular story about the NFL draft was about how strange it was that the mere act of choosing players -- not of actually making them play, but just picking them -- was such a huge event. I don't buy that, but if you do, then you'll shake your head when I say that I, and millions of other people, found a TV at 5:30 p.m. yesterday and anxiously watched the NBA Draft Lottery, which isn't even about picking players who will later play, but instead was the act of picking the order in which teams will pick the players who will later play. And you know what? It was riveting. When the #6 slot went to Milwaukee, it was apparent to those who knew the arcane draft rules and who could do some simple subtraction (a group that apparently did not include the ESPN announcers) that three long-shots had leapfrogged Memphis, Boston, and Milwaukee (Adlai! It's a team!), the worst three teams in the NBA, to claim the top spots in the draft. Because this draft class includes the two most-hyped players since LeBron James, that was a league-shaking development. Like tribal council reversals and last-minute stitching, it was improbably gripping television.

Predictably, the draft lottery losers have some sour grapes to spit out. Sports Guy Bill Simmons, who is frequently funny and insightful but who as frequently overcooks his woe-is-me-the-plight-of-the-long-suffering-Boston-fan complaining, says that if you're not a Boston sports fan, "you can't even fathom the pain." Did you follow a team that had an undersized freak of nature with an outsized heart, only to alienate him and then trade him for pennies on the dollar? Have you given your heart to basketball, baseball, and football teams that dominated regular seasons, only to sink under the weight of penalties, dropped passes, poor pitching matchups, or Dikembe Mutombo? Simmons has an answer for you -- Boston's pain is more acute because, and this really is his argument, it is accustomed to winning. So you should just be thankful that you haven't experienced all of those heartbreak-enabling championships.

Even better, though, is the reaction of Memphis lame-duck governess Jerry West. It's unfair, cries West, that the worst teams don't get the best players. That would be a fair point if it didn't come from the boss of a team that -- like the other two luckless lottery losers -- openly threw games for the last few months of the season just to improve its lottery position. It's hard to tell which teams are really the worst if some of them are shelving their best players (or pulling them from the fourth quarter of games) because they affirmatively want to lose. To West, then, I'd say the lottery worked pretty well this season. The punishment for tanking is the risk that it won't pay off, so all you have to show for your 60 losses is the embarassment of going out with everybody knowing you took a dive, plus maybe Mike Conley or that Li Jianling guy.
"I WOULDN'T TRADE THE EXPERIENCE FOR THE WORLD": Sure, we can talk about the National Spelling Bee all we want from our desks, but what's it really like on the inside? Regular commenter Heather Powell was a finalist in the 1983 Bee, and here's what she recalls:

What I can remember most: how many cameras there were in the front row of the ballroom of the Capitol Hilton, the barbecue where the tent almost took flight because of the gale-force winds, how annoyed the parents were when they didn't get to participate in the Rose Garden reception with President Reagan, and how funny it was that I got the word "xerography," considering that my dad was a service manager with Xerox at the time.

What I couldn't seem to remember: how to spell "muniments." More on that later.

It was 1983, and I was a dorky Catholic-school 8th grader, representing the Norristown Times-Herald in the National Spelling Bee. There were only 137 of us that year, there was no written word round, and we didn't get those cool polo shirts that the kids get now. I took the train down to DC with my mom and one of the reporters from the Times-Herald, and my dad joined us later in the week for the actual competition days. I remember visiting the Vietnam Memorial for the first time, and making a rubbing of a name for my father -- a friend of his from the Army who had been killed early on in the "conflict" -- and I remember that my mom made friends with Blake Giddens' mom during our private White House tour.

Blake ended up winning the Bee that year, correctly spelling "ratatouille" after the second-place finisher ended it with an "i," and then finished the competition off with "Purim." Blake was a really nice kid, and he now serves as one of the Bee's judges.

When I think about the actual competition, I can't remember that much, beyond the nerves and the cameras and the lights. I know that my first word was "ghost," and I remember giggling a little as I spelled it. I made it through the first day unscathed, and ended up placing 18th overall. I also made it briefly onto ABC's World News Tonight, during Dick Schaap's annual story about the Bee. I was shown sitting in the middle of a row of empty chairs at some point during the second day, clutching a tiny koala bear toy that was my good luck charm. I also vaguely remember the "crying room," where we were ushered after hearing the dreaded "ding."

When I got back from DC, one of my mom's friends had made me a Bee scrapbook, containing all of the Times-Herald articles and a list of all of my words, including the dreaded "muniments"; I added to it with ticket stubs, photos, and my Ronald Reagan autograph.

Seeing how ultra-competitive the Bee has become saddens me a little bit. I remember sitting in a tiny theater in Montclair, NJ, alone, watching "Spellbound," and thinking that those kids weren't having nearly as much fun as I remember having during the Bee.

I wouldn't trade the experience for the world, and I am still one of the biggest Bee geeks around, but I think that some of the innocence and fun has been taken out of the competition. Kids study and study and study, and I don't know that they get as much joy and camaraderie out of the week as I did. Even so, I can't wait to see this year's competition.

Best Bee trivia note for me: Upon moving into my dorm at American University in August of 1987, I discovered that one of the guys across the hall was also a contestant in the 1983 Bee. I still talk to him -- because he ended up marrying my roommate.
The Bee begins next Wednesday morning.
ELEGANCE WITHOUT ATTITUDE: Those who know me know that Vetri has been my favorite restaurant ever since Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin opened it about a decade ago, especially for special occasions, and that I was v. excited about Osteria, their attempt at a bigger, more casual spin on rustic, game-centered Italian cooking. So, while I wish them all the success in the world (and the Benjamins are friends and neighbors now), I didn't need the NYT's Frank Bruni to invite hordes of New Yorkers down here to try them out.

Just take a look at the Vetri dinner menu. I've never had a bad dish there.

[In other culinary news, the Times also discovers poutine today.]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

AND THE ACTUAL RETAIL PRICE OF THAT KOOSH BALL IS... Now, there can be much disagreement about who (if anyone) should replace Bob Barker as host of The Price Is Right, but I think we can all agree that it not working out with Rosie O'Donnell is a Good Thing.
SHOULD WE CALL THE SURVIVING CONTESTANTS "THE ALLOTED"? Watched On the Lot tonight, which is what Fox wanted, giving it the prime post-Idol slot, and it was good enough for us to decide to choose the season pass for now. While we've already had our Brett Ratner quotient filled for the week, it's good to see no-bullshit judges like Carrie Fisher and Garry Marshall involved in something like this, and the production values and storytelling are just as good as you'd expect from a Mark Burnett production.

Chelsea Handler is an odd choice to host this show. Her essay collection My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One Night Stands is viciously funny and undeniably raunchy ... and so I don't know what she's doing in a role where she seems de-fanged. We shall see.

e.t.a. Wow, Tom Shales really did not like this show.
APPARENTLY, AMERICAN IDOL IS A SINGING COMPETITION: In case Randy and Simon weren't clear enough as to whose victory they preferred tonight -- though, to be sure, Jordin kicked Blake's ass five different ways tonight. Blake shouldn't have picked "She Will Be Loved" with that weak falsetto, and had no chance at all on "This Is My Moment Like This Inside Your Heaven," or whatever this year's anthem was.

Jordin, on the other hand, found a glory note in there which immediately garnered induction into the American Idol Glory Note Hall of Fame without the five-day waiting period (right next to Jennifer Hudson's at the end of "Weekend in New England"), and her "Broken Wing" remains top-notch. This shouldn't be close, America.

Sepinwall: "Now, is that fair, America? Asking Blake to sing [the puppy dog and rainbows anthem] is like asking Dennis Kucinich to dunk a basketball. Asking Jordin to do it is like asking Paris Hilton to be nasty and conceited. It just comes naturally to her, and she hits a sustained glory note near the end that Blake would never in a million years even think of attempting."

Fienberg: "TONIGHT'S BEST: I'm going to say that Jordin and Blake were absolutely the night's best. IN DANGER: I have a feeling that the Bottom Two will include Jordin and Blake."
HAVEN'T YOU SEEN ANIMAL PLANET? OK, the NFL will pressure ESPN to take a fictional dramatic series about football players off the air (yeah, I just finished DisneyWar), but has players who apparently believe that dog fighting is a fun way to spend a lazy afternoon.
IT PROBABLY GOES WITHOUT SAYING, BUT NOT REALLY FOR ANY REASON AT ALL: Some days are good days. Other days, as hard as you try, you can't get the name "Coley Laffoon" out of your head.
YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE EVERYBODY LIKES? PARFAITS: Shrek the Musical is coming to Broadway in 2008. David Lindsay-Abaire (High Fidelity, Rabbit Hole) to do book and lyrics, Jeanine Tesori (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Swing!, and Caroline, or Change) on music, Jason Moore (Avenue Q, Steel Magnolias) to direct.
AT THE END OF THE STORM IS A GOLDEN SKY, AND THE SWEET SILVER SONG OF A LARK: It's Idol finale night, and with the ratings down from last season, Lisa de Moraes decided to investigate:
"Season 5 was the season to emulate, and we knew that going into this season it would be hard to match," Fox reality-programming chief Mike Darnell told The TV Column in a phone interview. "This is a better season than [No.] 3 and as good as 4. It only pales slightly compared to 5 -- as do all the other seasons."

Talentwise, Darnell said, "this is going to be one of our better finales."

What Season 5 had, he says, was not just good singing talent, but diversity of characters. That included rocker Daughtry, Elliott Yamin, pretty Katharine McPhee and good ol' boy Hicks. "It had a lot of different characters and everybody had someone they could connect with.

"Year 5 had the best characters we've ever had."
I will steal an insight from The Wife to note that all of the seasons since they raised the eligibility age to 28 (Season 4 on) have been more talented top-to-bottom than the three which preceded it. Now, I'd put season 4 over season 5 because I loved what Bo and Constantine brought to the table and hated, hated Taylor Hicks. But this season has been pretty fun to watch, with a deep talent pool and no real results controversies until last week, and these final three (bloated) hours are going to be fun. ThingThrowers, who ya got?
IT'S PHILHARMAGICAL!: At last, 3-D movies are coming back. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson will direct and produce a trilogy of 3-D movies about Tintin, James Cameron's coming back to the screen with a 3-D human v. alien movie, and "DreamWorks Animation SKG has announced that all of its future movies will be shot in 3-D, for release beginning in 2009." Excited?
WELCOME BACK: As many of you know, Roger Ebert has had a slew of health problems for the past year or so, which have kept him from writing regularly. I had gotten out of the habit of reading his website since there wasn't that much new content there written by him (Jim Emerson, the editor of, is also a gifted critic).

In any event, this week there are three new reviews written by Ebert on his site.
KING OF THE EYESORES? Frequent contributor Russ has been listening a lot to the Shins' song "New Slang." He writes:
"I can't for the life of me figure out what it means. It struck me that there are probably a lot of songs like that. It struck me that people might have fun talking about them."
The lyrics are here (not that they shed much light on the meaning of the song).

While we are on the broader aspects of the issue Russ describes, I have two words for you: "Belle" and "Sebastian."

Monday, May 21, 2007

STILL WAITING FOR THE LITTLEST GROOM II -- EVEN LITTLER: While we all ooh and aah over a "connection" being made in Bachelor-land and Storm Large prepares to do a regional theater production of Cabaret (seriously, with all the crap that's going to be aired, they couldn't find some way to do RockStar III?), RealityBlurred has the summer 2007 reality tv schedule. Some highlighted debuts:
  • On the Lot [FOX, May 22 and 24 at 9; then Mondays at 9 and Tuesdays at 8]
  • So You Think You Can Dance [FOX, May 24, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8]
  • Pirate Master [CBS, May 31, Thursdays at 8] (note: debut is up against Spelling Bee finals)
  • Hell’s Kitchen 3 [FOX, June 4, Mondays at 9]
  • Top Chef 3 [Bravo, June 6, Wednesdays at 10]
  • Who Wants to be a Superhero 2 [SciFi, July 25, Wednesdays at 9]
Sadly, The Amazing American Hunting Treasure Quest Secret Code Thingy will not be returning to the airwaves.
DO YOU HAVE A PLAN? There was much anti-climactic in the Heroes finale, though there were enough genuinely moving moments along the way and the first scene of "Volume II" certainly raises a lot of questions. More than that would be a spoiler, so we'll stay away from that--to the comments!
QUIS CUSTODET IPSOS CUSTODES: With Heroes' season finale looking to totally rip it off, now's as good a time as any for some Watchmen casting news. Patrick Wilson as Dan Drier/Night Owl sounds good, and Jude Law as Adrian Viedt/Ozymandias, even better. But I'm hard-pressed to think of a bigger misfire than the concept of Keanu Reeves as Dr. Jonathan Osterman.
SURE BILL & TED'S SHOULD HAVE BEEN 69, BUT NO. 73 ("JOHNSON, NAVIN R.!!) MORE THAN MAKES UP FOR THE OVERSIGHT: It's 100 Movies, 100 Quotes, 100 Numbers. (If there's any that stump you, the list of films is here.)

Via Popwatch.
NOT ANOTHER ADULT HOSPITAL DRAMA: Those of you who care one little bit about my movie preferences, and I realize it's a diminishingly small group, know that Not Another Teen Movie* is -- along with LA Confidential, Deer Hunter, Chinatown, the first two Godfathers, Cruel Intentions, and maybe Midnight Run -- one of my favorite movies. So I was deeply hurt when, upon belatedly watching the Grey's finale this weekend, I realized that nobody bothered to pump me up by telling me that Chyler Leigh is joining the cast next season. I deeply, deeply regret that she wasn't around for last season's finale, just so that she could teach the staff all the words to Prom Tonight (NSFW, apparently). Let's just say that if I were Dr. McDreamy, I think I could find a way to get over Meredith posthaste.

*Guest-starring Ted Moseby! And Leigh, Jaime Pressly, Claudia from Party of Five, Kenny from The Cosby Show, Samm Levine, and Mia Kirschner are all playing high school students. So awesome.
IT DIDN'T PUT ASSES IN SEATS, BUT IT PUT LOAFERS IN ELEVATORS: According to Captivate Network (motto: "Brand Name Notwithstanding, This Is A Non-Custodial News Dissemination"), the cancelled show that viewers will miss the most is Studio 60, which routed Veronica Mars by a margin of 57% to 13% (with other shows making up the rest of the 100%). So there you have it. Studio 60 didn't exactly hit with the overall or 18-49 demos, but it was Idol-like in the gets-news-from-elevator-then-logs-onto-web-page-to-vote-in-online-poll demographic.
WHO INVITED MAYA RUDOLPH'S IMPERSONATION OF DONATELLA VERSACE INTO MY ENTOURAGE? Just a lousy episode from our four friends from Queens, and they sold the house why? Moreover, didn't the preview for the next episode just completely spoil the resolution of the non-cliffhanger?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

IN WHICH KEITH MARS LEADS A LIFE OF QUIET DESPERATION: A thought spurred by tonight's season finale of Desperate Housewives and this week's cancellation of Veronica Mars. In spite of the two shows being polar opposites in terms of ratings success, don't they show one critical thing in common? Both had incredibly clear narrative arcs for their first seasons (in fact, Veronica was originally developed as a novel about Veronica investigating the murder of Lily Kane), and neither really seemed to expect getting renewed for subsequent seasons. In both cases, after a second season considered to be disappointing, the third season brought substantial creative changes (Veronica's change to mini-arcs and stand alone episodes rather than a season-long mystery, Housewives doing the same, with the Orson mystery resolving early and turning into mini-arcs and standalones later in the season). So, to fix Housewives, do we need to do something radical like bump everything ahead 4 or 5 years, or can it be fixed?

Edited: I hadn't finished watching the finale when I wrote this post. Given that one of my gripes about this season was how much prominence was given to one character (apparently in an effort to substitute/make up for the absence of Bree while Marcia Cross was on maternity leave), the season-ending cliffhanger certainly seemed to resolve that problem.
THE CAT CAME BACK THE VERY NEXT DAY: So You Think You Can Dance returns for its third lyrical hippity-hoppity Dan-Karaty-ridiculous-saying season on Thursday just in time to help America ease gently out of AI withdrawal.

Who's with me?

(Oh, and by the way, if ever there were a show that should feel a need to send me swag for my nonstop pimping, is there any question that SYTYCD would be that show?)
DON'T EXPECT HAPPINESS: And the Sopranos go about as full circle as a show can. Back to the pool. Back to Livia. Back to "poor you". There's a part of me that believes the series could have ended with this episode, and am intrigued whether they're going to push certain insights further.

I don't want to spoil things, and am v. interested to see what smarter scribes than I have to say.

e.t.a.: Sepinwall: "Meadow had her chance to get off the bus for good, but instead she's inching towards a lifetime bus pass. Carmela had two chances -- first when that elderly shrink told her to leave Tony, then when she actually threw him out -- and both times she couldn't do it. Vito drove home to his own death, so great was the pull of his old life. Adriana couldn't leave Christopher and died because of him. Chris in turn couldn't leave Tony, and now he's gone to Hell for him."

Selling out is so 20th century at Pandagon

AIN'T SINGIN' FOR PEPSI, AIN'T SINGIN' FOR COKE: Pandagon's Amanda ("No Relation") Marcotte has a wise post on why grunge-era qualms about bands "selling out" are totally L-Seven these days:
If you’ve ever bought through Ticketmaster, you’ll know that the fees are so out of control, they will double the ticket price for expensive shows and triple it for cheaper ones, causing me at least to vow that I’d sooner slit my wrists than buy through them again. So when file-sharing came onto the scene, it was contextualized as a blow by fans against a predatory music industry. The pushback from the industry that involved attempts to arrest 12-year-olds and old ladies and to interfere with college campuses to get them to spy on their students using internet, especially with the empty complaints about supporting artists (who barely see a fraction of the money earned through these out-of-control prices) only confirmed this opinion.

In this kind of environment, the idea that a musician who works at all with a major label or sells a CD through a store like Tower or had concerts with middleman ticket sellers who charge exorbiant fees could somehow remain pure from “selling out” by refusing money to have her music in commercials became utterly silly....
FWIW, I'm intrigued by the economics of Free Ozzfest this summer; could be a total disaster for the bands, but could be brilliant.

Culture Snob | Movies: Etc. | The Misunderstood Blog-a-thon: Now Through May 20

OCEAN'S TWELVE WAS JUST A SOUL WHOSE INTENTIONS WERE GOOD: The Culture Snob is hosting "The Misunderstood Blog-A-Thon" this week, featuring essays from around the cultural blogosphere on the missed brilliance of films like Gremlins and Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, to which I'd add my 2003 essay on how all Paul Verhoeven films are actual comedies.
DECIDEDLY NOT PALAVER: On Friday, ESPN's Dan Patrick interviewed five-time National Spelling Bee finalist Samir Patel on the radio. (ESPN Insider req'd?)

In other coverage of Shonda's favorites, Arizona's Jonathan Horton ("He whispers into his right clenched fist as if there may be a person in there who needs to hear the spelling of a word before anyone else. He's MAD, MAD, MAD SKILLED and I love him") is about to hit the NYC media circuit, and is talking the kind of smack that only a top-notch speller can:
“I think this is the best chance I’ve had so far,” Jonathan said. “I also have an extremely good chance that I won’t win.”
Four-timer Matthew C. Evans has already won the Reader's Digest Word Power Challenge, so the Bee is just icing on the gravy for him.

Also, an invitation: if you've competed in the National Spelling Bee or otherwise have a really good reason why you might be helpful to our live Bee blogging this year, email me and let me know.