Saturday, October 27, 2007

THE NEXT STEP IS TO GET IT INTO THE SPELLING BEE: The NYT talks to Shonda Rhimes and others about the derivation and increased popularity of the term "vajayjay".
I GOT A LITTLE STUPID: Dan In Real Life is not a perfect film by any means--indeed, I think I'd prefer it if one subplot (the Emily Blunt one) had been left on the cutting room floor and we'd spent a little more time with the family members who didn't get as much screen time. That said, it's far more charming than any movie in which Dane Cook appears has a right to be, and I both laughed and got a little misty during the course of the film. Carell delivers a very nice performance, proving that he can do more than stupid comedy, and Cook is relatively inoffensive. The most surprising and pleasant part of the film, though, is a song score by Sondre Lerche, whose songs comment on the action (kind of like how Wes Anderson uses the Bowie songs in Life Aquatic), who I wasn't familiar with, and which is quite enjoyable. A content warning, however, for wary viewers--not only does Dane Cook appear in the film, but Dane Cook sings in the film, and (along with co-star Norbert Leo Butz) has a songwriting credit. Worth your while.

Also, attached to the film was the trailer for Love In The Time Of Cholera, which seems like painfully bad Oscar baiting effort, and which provoked substantial and audible laughter in the theatre when the "Original Songs By Shakira" title card popped up.
NEW YORK, THE OUTSIDE WORLD. OUTSIDE WORLD, NEW YORK: I know that New Yorkers aren't really like this and that the New York Times is making this up. Right?
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: When I decided that it was time for my inaugural reality-tv-related live event -- at the Nassau Coliseum, no less! -- I thought that I was going to be embarrassingly old relative to the universe of people who would choose to attend the So You Think You Can Dance tour. To my mild amazement, I wasn't. In fact, I actually felt pretty young compared to many of the people sitting around us. So apparently SYTYCD's fan base skews older than I'd realized. Who knew?

I have to say that I was surprised by the production values of the thing -- from impeccably timed prerecorded Cat Deeley voiceovers ("Welcome . . . to so you THINK you can DANCE!") to well-written and shockingly well-delivered patter from the dancers themselves that, like, made Jaimie, like, giggle, sound articulate, while Dominic was given a number of self-deprecating comedic sketches. The producers did a really impressive job of recreating the "our show in your living room" communal spirit that is, to me, one of the most appealing aspects of the TV show.

And there was dancing, too -- tons of it! Solos (actual choreographed ones, from what I could tell) from all of the top ten dancers plus at least 25 group or partnered routines. All of the greatest hits were represented, from Sabra and Neil's "Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)" workplace dance to the oft-touted-by-me hummingbird and flower dance (Hok! Hok! Hok!) to the Danny/Anya foxtrot to the Mia's dad dance to the hobos cabaret to the Benjy-choreographed west coast swing to the Dmitri-choreographed samba to the Lauren and Pasha we-are-the-machine dance and so on. If you can think of a dance you particularly liked during the season, it was danced on the tour. Sabra got very little in the way of special attention -- she got to dance the last solo, and was alluded to as the winner a few times, but that was it. And even though the teenybopper contingent was less dominant than I'd anticipated, they were loud Loud LOUD when it came to screeching for Danny and Neil whenever they set foot on stage.

If there was one glaringly odd choice, it was Kameron and Shauna dancing the Shauna/Jimmy "Ease on Down the Road" number from maybe week two of the finals. Shauna was apparently brought on the tour as some sort of alternate/understudy (along with Anya, Hok, and Jesús), so her appearance wasn't terribly weird, but plopping Kameron into the Jimmy role for what was never a memorable dance to begin with just underscored the degree to which Kameron made it as far as he did in the competition solely by virtue of being the prop around which Lacey danced. In a two-hour show chock full of great moments, the fact that Kameron didn't have any great moments of his own was pretty obvious.

So now, having been to my first SYTYCD tour, I think it's pretty safe to say that Mr. Cosmo and I plan to attend next year's festivities! Go Room 19!
IN ALL OTHER WEEKS, I DO NOT BLOG ABOUT T-SHIRTS EVEN ONCE. THIS WEEK, WHY DO I DO IT TWO TIMES? Because I ought to let people know that TWoP's limited edition Robin Sparkles Mall Tour 1993 t-shirts are only on sale through 10/31.
I IMAGINED THAT TRACY PROBABLY WENT TO A BAR MITZVAH AND THOUGHT, "WHY ARE THERE NO BAR MITZVAH SONGS PLAYING AT THIS PARTY?": It will take you longer to read this NYT piece on 30 Rock's "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah" than the actual six-second sketch took.

Finally seizing upon a viral opportunity, NBC has released the full audio of the song and is encouraging fans to create their own music video versions.

Friday, October 26, 2007

GREETINGS, GOSSIP GIRL FANS: Yes, we should talk about the hit show a bit more, because I'm not the only one here watching. Can I tell any of the guys apart other than Dan Humphrey and his five-years-older-than-him Dad? Not really. Read this interview with writer/producer Stephanie Savage about pulling off the adaptation, or New York magazine's coverage, and then we can decide whether we're ever going to have a week without a party (did love the Eyes Wide Shut tribute), or whether New York is right in claiming "The generation of tweens watching Gossip Girl, take note: Dan is your Jake Ryan, and believing that guys like this exist can ruin your life," or whether, as Lesley Blume puts it:

Gossip Girl seems to tell us that there's nothing to look forward to, and there will be nothing to look back upon ... except more of the same. We're not just destined to become brittle materialistic adults; we already are brittle materialistic adults by the time we hit puberty. We have no choice. We're wired for misery. If we have money, we're destined to be miserable with it. If we don't have it, we're destined to be miserable without it, and spend our lives with our noses pressed up against the glass.

And this demoralizing little message is the real meanness of the series.

Gossip Girl represents nothing less than the soft death of youth culture and rebellion and self-determinism.

We have many van der Woodsens to discuss, gang.
THEY NEVER DID EXPLAIN WHY IF VICKIE WAS A ROBOT SHE KEPT GROWING: Today's Chicago Tribune uses the cancellation of Viva Laughlin to look at the 25 worst TV shows of all time.

So, which ones did they miss (Learning the Ropes)? Or even, better, defend a show on their list.
TODAY'S POST BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE ANDROID'S DUNGEON & BASEBALL CARD SHOP: Although comic books began simply as reprinted collections of newspaper comic strips, by the late 1930s and 1940s they had come into their own as a full-fledged form of popular culture. (Their history gets a rich, engaging retelling in Bradford Wright's Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, as well as the History Channel documentary, Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked, which features talking-head commentary by Michael Chabon and Kevin Smith, along with many comic-industry greats.) The most popular comic-book figures were costumed heroes like Superman, who burst onto the scene in 1938 in the famous Action Comics No. 1. Superman was quickly joined by colleagues and rivals like Batman, Captain Marvel, and the recently deceased Captain America, and the boom in superhero comics fueled a wider expansion of the comic-book industry into genres ranging from romance and detective to Western and horror.

After World War II -- during which comics became a favorite entertainment of American GIs -- comics reached even greater heights of popularity. Sales figures were breathtaking, with average monthly circulation reaching 70 to 100 million by 1953, and well over 90 percent of teenagers reportedly read comics regularly. At that very moment, however, comics ran into growing criticism from politicians, civic leaders, and child-development experts, who argued that comic books corrupted their young readers by condoning violence, mocking authority, and trafficking in sexual innuendo. Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham brought the anti-comics crusade to a head with his 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, which in turn led to an investigation, public hearings, and a scathing report by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (commonly known as the Kefauver committee). In the familiar pattern of an entertainment industry choosing to censor itself (rather than allow government officials to do so), the leading comic-book publishers hurriedly unveiled the Comics Code Authority in October 1954; much like Hollywood's Hays Code, the Comics Code prohibited potentially offensive content and required writers and illustrators to secure the CCA's seal of approval for any publication. At precisely the moment when the movies and popular music were starting to embrace youth culture and to commodify teenage rebellion, the comics were becoming domesticated and sanitized.

Of course, the comics weren't dead yet, as they would enjoy a revival in the 'sixties "Silver Age" and another wave of commercial and critical success with the ambitious "graphic novels" of the 'eighties. Yet comics would never again enjoy the broad-based popularity they had in the early 1950s. Still, comic book lovers remain an unusually and intensely devoted audience, perhaps the ultimate "fanboys." (I believe we have a number of comic aficionados around these here parts.) But what exactly causes this geekly love? Why do comic books inspire such fanatical commitment among their readers? And is that commitment fundamentally different from the devotion stimulated by other forms of pop culture?

Next week: the birth of rock 'n' roll, Elvis, and baby-boomer girl culture.
SEPARATED AT BIRTH? I don't have the perfect photos linked to demonstrate my point, but is there any doubt that Giovanni Ribisi would be cast as Jonathan Papelbon in the film version of the 2007 World Series? You gotta love that Riverdance celebration the Paps did at the end of the ALCS!
MAY I INTERJECT FOR A SECOND? AS A BURGER SHACK EMPLOYEE FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS, IF THERE'S ONE THING I'VE LEARNED, IT'S THAT IF YOU'RE CRAVING WHITE CASTLE, THE BURGERS HERE JUST DON'T CUT IT: The first poster for Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (what happened to Amsterdam?) raises two important questions -- What Would NPH Do?, and, um, why on a unicorn?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

FOLLOWSHIP: Oh, there was brilliance at 30 Rock tonight, in particular Alec Baldwin's therapy tour-de-force and the whole Page-Off thing. The Carrie Fisher stuff, not so much -- yes, the show pretty much forces each of its actors do to some form of self-abasement, but this seemed a bit unfair.

The Office? Just okay. Poor Dwight. Loved Darryl's song.
THE ONE WHERE RACHEL WINS THE NOBEL PRIZE: Since Russ brought it up in the comments to Professor Jeff's post (where we threadjacked the movies to talk economics) I wanted to tell you in a pop-cultural way all about my favorite episode of Friends, which came, I believe, in the third season:

In a flashback to what must be Season 1, Ross is explaining to Monica’s cooking-school friends how he picks up women, and Monica is openly mocking him, and one of her friends is like “mm-hm, tell me more, Professor,” but sarcastically, and nobody is buying it. So Ross calls over Joey for support, and Joey just mocks Ross's hapless seduction techniques. Ross continues to teach, but Joey keeps interrupting to disprove everything Ross says about scoring. By the end of the afternoon, he has made out with all of Monica’s friends.

Back in the present, Joey routinely holds forth on picking up women, sex, how to break up painlessly, the importance of food in a one-night stand, and other matters of the heart. In walks Rachel to her apartment, where the gang (minus Chandler) is gathered, and in the course of a story about some whirlwind romance, she drops a little nugget about a foolproof combination of flirty gestures and sweet nothings that a woman can use to get any man immediately interested – not just interested, but tied-up-in-knots interested. The gang, and particularly Joey, loves the story about the whirlwind romance, but dismisses the come-on technique as impossible. When Rachel defends herself, Joey dares her to prove the Technique’s success at Central Perk.

That afternoon at Central Perk, the gang identifies the tallest, darkest, coolest, handsomest, and gayest guy in the place – the guy most likely immune to the Technique -- and turns Rachel loose on him. She does the flirty gestures (hair twists, ankle dips, arm touches, coy half-smiles, etc.) and makes the small talk. The guy is impassive, and Rachel returns to the couch. The gang (still minus Chandler) needles her about her failure, but Rachel tells them to wait. A commercial break and b-plot later, the guy walks up and says, “I don’t normally do this kind of thing with, uh, your kind of people – women -- but would you like to get a bite to eat?” No, Rachel says. The guy’s overtures grow increasingly frantic, until he’s pleading from outside the window.

Believing that it’s Rachel’s pulchritude, not the Technique, that did the damage, Ross says that somebody more ordinary needs to try it, like Monica (cue familial cross-sarcasm). At that moment, Chandler (remember, this is before his relationship with Monica) walks in. Monica uses The Technique, but it’s a hot mess – she rushes it; she’s obvious about it; she seems a lot crazy. Hilarity ensues when, despite Monica’s pathetic delivery, Chandler is reduced to a drooling puddle of lust. It works! The gang returns to Rachel and Monica’s apartment to demonstrate appropriate appreciation for Rachel’s discovery and explain it to Chandler, and the Technique makes occasional appearances throughout the remainder of the series.

All of that actually happened, except Ross is Ed Levi, and Joey is Aaron Director, and Rachel is Ronald Coase, and Monica is Milton Friedman, and the handsome gay man is George Stigler, and Chandler is most of the rest of the world’s economists and law professors, and Season 1 is 1953, and Season 3 is 1959-60, and picking up chicks is antitrust law and the pseudo-economic theory on which it is based, and Monica’s friends from cooking school are Robert Bork and Abner Mikva and Henry Manne, and Rachel and Monica’s apartment is the Journal of Law and Economics, and Rachel’s whirlwind romance story is The Federal Communications Commission, and Central Perk is Aaron Director’s house, and the Technique is the idea that in the absence of transaction costs a good will naturally wind up in the hands of its most efficient user, and explaining it all to Chandler is The Problem of Social Cost.

Next week: Joey convinces Phoebe to debunk the Standard Oil myth.
QUIT OR QUIT QUITTING: Weird endings to my two Wednesday 8:00 reality shows, the one about children and the one about pretty adults. In both, a participant just couldn't handle the fishbowl of reality-tv-induced drama, and we got to see two very different reactions to those contestants' attempts to quit: (1) a predictably petty, petulant, self-centered, and childish reaction, exactly what you would expect from a bunch of 11-year-olds; and (2) a mature, thoughtful, empathetic, supportive, and constructive reaction, exactly what you would want from an adult mentor. Of course, the former came from Tyra; the latter came from a bunch of pre-teens and tweens, led by 11-year old Guylan.

The fact is that I would much rather watch a positive-message daytime talk show hosted by DK, yet another in a truly-impressive collection of great kids in the Kid Nation cast (notwithstanding a few understandably childish ones), than one by Tyra. That said, I think ANTM, with its tight structure and small-group dynamic, has been great for Heather, my favorite contestant this season. Tyra has cured autism in record time -- less time than it took her to cure lupus, impetigo, blindness, epilepsy, and low self-esteem, and about as long as it took her to cure bad weaves and Katrina-homelessness -- and Heather is taking phenomenal pictures. I only hope that she isn't getting the peaked-too-soon edit.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

COMING WITH ALL DELIBERATE SPEED: I'm sure this blog's audience will have at least some interest in the concept of a one-man show about the life and times of Thurgood Marshall, which will open on Broadway in the spring, with Lawrence Fishburne playing Marshall. This may be the most play heavy season on Broadway in recent memory, with new plays (at least to America) by Tom Stoppard, Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet, and Mark Twain all slated to open just in the fall.
HEY KIDS, LET'S PUT ON A SHOWCIETY! The most pleasant surprise for me this television season, apart from the renewed understanding that a televised musical is a bad idea on every level, has been Kid Nation. The surprise isn't that the premise works. Despite the predominantly (though, in fairness to friends of this blog, not uniformly) alarmist pre-show chatter, I always thought the pitch -- drop 40 kids into something approximating a Rousseauian state of nature and see if they come up with the social contract or the Lord of the Flies -- was solid gold.

Instead, the surprise is that the show is succeeding despite every attempt by the producers to fuck it up. I can forgive the cheesy Pioneer backstory that, for some reason, the cast is pretending (not convincingly) that it believes, and the ham-handed themes of the week ("religion"; "Soviet democracy"; "killing chickens"). And I actually like the "instant gratification or long-term good" choice that they give the kids weekly (though we'll see how that plays out when the kids realize they're going home soon). Those, though, are little issues.

What I really can't forgive is the feudal conception of society the producers are trying to impose upon the kids. The show is built around a series of competitions -- representing war in the societal analogy, I guess -- that stratify the four teams by class, in an impenetrably tangled metaphor. The losers are deemed "laborers," for a nickel a week; the third-place team serves as cooks, for a dime a week; the second-place winners are the merchants, for 50 cents a week; and the winners are the "upper class," with no work obligations, for a dollar a week. The problem with this is that both the competition and the spoils are contrived. People (kids) will find non-artificial reasons to align themselves in conflict (witness the kids' societally-accurate conflicts over religion). As for the consequences of the competition, the rigidity of assigning both tasks and salary, as opposed to salary alone, seems to be inhibiting what could be a very interesting demonstration of the Coase theory at work. It would have been very satisfying to watch the hard-working kids separate the lazy winners from their consumer surplus. It's therefore particularly galling that the show's point seems to be that once you are given (or born into) a caste, you're stuck there, doing what you're told, until a higher power decides to move you up or down.

If the producers' anachronistic view of society is a huge problem, though, it's not insurmountable. Apart from the cuteness of the kids -- my favorite is the sensitive nine-year-old bespectacled genius with the lone giant tooth into which all of the wisdom of the world has been calcified -- the best part of the show is the struggle between contestants and contest. One ongoing plot line is the town's effort to get the Yellow Team, comprised principally of work-averse Jon-Benet-alike Taylor and her layabout minions, out of the kitchen to which they are routinely assigned, where they consistently fail to feed the town. The effort is led by Sophia, a hard-working pain-in-the-ass earnest white girl if ever there were one, and Zach, the Yellow Team's roll-up-your-sleeves pariah (note: what, exactly, is the show saying about the paradigm of the Industrious Jew?). The solutions, so far, involve the town banding together to do the work themselves and, alternatively, freeing Sophia (the town's best and most eager cook) from her outhouse-scrubbing duties to do the Yellow Team's work. This week, according to the promos, Zach will up the ante in an appropriately society-building way: by withholding Yellow Team salaries if the Yellow Team fails to do its job. Another loose plotline involves the town basically giving the finger to everything the producers tell the "Town Council" to make the town do, like organizing a townwide religious ceremony.

I'll enjoy the show for its kids-acting-like-they-think-adults-act way, its kids-acting-like-kids way (Campbell, last week: "let's do something fun. Looking at cows is fun"), and its occasional Charlie Brown kids-actually-acting-like-adults way as long as it runs. But what I'd really like to see is the kids rebelling against the caste structure and letting the market have its way. You want your toilets scrubbed, Blue Team? Then let's see you part with some of that dollar a week you're getting. Now that's how you build a society.

Wow, that's a lot of rambling about a reality show, albeit one that could have been one of the best reality shows ever if the producers had faith in its premise. Anyway, tune in tonight.
I AM BIG. IT'S THE PICTURES THAT GOT SMALL: In 1946, movies dominated the pop-culture landscape. Nearly 100 million Americans -- roughly two-thirds of the nation's population -- went to the movies every week at one of the country's twenty thousand movie theaters. By the mid-1950s, weekly attendance had collapsed to 36 million, over five thousand theaters had closed, and many of the remaining movie houses were either losing money or getting by only on concessions. Wha' happened?

Well, first and foremost, of course, television happened. But the movie business itself also changed dramatically, thanks in part to the Supreme Court's 1948 Paramount decision, which forced the major Hollywood studios to give up their movie theaters and abandon anti-competitive booking practices. Although some observers thought this "free market" would actually stimulate the movie biz, it instead fostered an increase in rental fees for popular first-run movies, which theaters then passed on to their patrons with higher ticket prices, which in turn discouraged many potential moviegoers. In addition, suburbanization and the baby boom both prompted one-time movie fans to seek their entertainment closer to home -- where the tube was happily waiting for them.

So, what's a movie mogul to do? Some studios turned to spectacle, focusing on the "A" pictures and making them memorable events, worthy of a night out. MGM became a fabulous factory for musicals, such as Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), featuring splashy costumes, extravagant sets, and vivid color. Other producers poured millions into sprawling epics like The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben Hur (1959), often filmed in new wide-screen formats like CinemaScope, the better to capture their casts of thousands. And some filmmakers catered to the youth audience, those teens who were beginning to chafe at the conformist culture of the 'fifties. Perhaps drawing courage from 1952's "Miracle decision," which guaranteed First Amendment protection to movies, writers and directors featured more rebellious, volatile, antisocial heroes, like Johnny Stabler (Marlon Brando) in The Wild One (1953) and Jim Stark (James Dean) in Rebel without a Cause (1955). Whatever the genre, movies of the 1950s tried to offer audiences something that they couldn't get on a black-and-white TV.

For a time, these efforts were successful, as movie attendance briefly rebounded in the mid-fifties. But box office figures soon declined again, leveling out in the 1960s, and since then, weekly attendance has remained stuck at around ten percent of the population. Clearly, for many folks on this blog, the movies still hold a sense of wonder. But can the movie industry ever regain that prominent pop-culture position it once enjoyed? Or is it destined to survive primarily as an adjunct to the small screen, sustained by DVD sales, on-demand rentals, and downloads?
CUE EYEBROW ACTION AND POOR SWEATER CHOICES: The 11 teams who will be fighting it out in the next RaceAroundTheWorld are now officially announced. We're (blessedly) lacking on the "Dating/Models" front this year, but Team Dating Goths With Pink Hair, Team Paralegally Blonde (tm HIMYM), the second coming of Team Weezer and Geezer, and Team Episcopal Minsters (with a twist) are all of interest.
BECAUSE I CAN GET AN ANSWER FROM YOU QUICKER THAN I CAN GET ONE FROM STEPHEN JAY GOULD, WHO, TECHNICALLY, IS DEAD: As I downed a slightly-stale Starbucks lemon scone yesterday, the following thought came to me: What, exactly, is the evolutionary-biology explanation for why we like foods that are not good for us?
WELLFLEETS V. ROCKY MOUNTAINS: Okay, let's have at it, people -- which team is winning the World Series? I will take the Rockies in 6, because Josh Beckett's streak of postseason dominance has to end eventually, and there is a reason the Rockies have been winning all these games lately. Also, I can't possibly predict good things to happen for J.D. Drew.
HEY, ANDY DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THIS ONE? My kids and I met my wife and her work colleagues out for dinner tonight to celebrate her birthday (she is in the midst of a three-day business meeting, thus the mixed company). Of the nine people at the table, two claimed that the moon landings were staged (and the two were not my six and eight year old). I wanted to debate it with them, but how do you even argue something like that? I guess I should have asked if they also believed Reggie Jackson once tried to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ALOTT5MA READER RORSCHACH TEST: Choose your favorite ironic t-shirt from among the collection presented here. (I may well get Lucy the Poppin' Fresh one.)
WHEN I AM THROUGH WITH YOU, THERE WON'T BE ANYTHING LEFT: I'm still not sure how well Damages' attempt to take the old Murder One formula and apply it to civil litigation really worked out (the middle of the season, with inexplicable subplots like "Patty's son goes to rehab," was particularly trying, and the constantly flashbacks and flashforwards were as annoying as they were significant). As Maureen Ryan notes, it's been worth watching for the utterly magnetic performances of Glenn Close and (more surprisingly) Ted Danson, who gets to play the 180 degree opposite of Sam Malone. And aside from the ludicrous accent he was saddled with, Zeljko Ivanek delivered a pretty solid performance (and that plot twist a couple of weeks ago was pretty darn brilliant). And man, that was a gut punch of an ending (with awesome song to boot), and a hell of a setup for a second season that promises to be a lot more interesting than the first. Discuss below.

Tim Goodman: A simple, but critical, remedy to fix HBO

NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS (THEY WANTED TO HEAR): The San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman says HBO's in trouble, but he knows how to fix it. (No, it doesn't involve just airing Larry Sanders reruns, but I'd certainly encourage them to do so.)
A TWENTY-ONE CLANG SALUTE Vincent DeDomenico, the creator of Rice-a-Roni, died Thursday at the age of 92. I honestly don't know if I have ever had Rice-a-Roni. Nevertheless, Rice-a-Roni's sponsorship of shows like The Price is Right and Dialing for Dollars is the earliest memory I have of someone trying to sell me something.

Of course, as a Bay Area native, I might not be the right person to eulogize the man. I assume for much of this readership, the Rice-a-Roni commercials were your first regular glimpse of San Francisco, much as Sesame Street still colors my view of New York.
ESPECIALLY GIVEN THAT I'VE NEVER SEEN CONTINENTAL DIVIDE: It is difficult to determine other metrics suitable for this blog to evaluate the relative strengths of Boston and Denver/Colorado as we await the World Series -- certainly not in terms of the films set and shot in each area. But on tv, the fight might be a little fairer: Dynasty, Mork & Mindy, Everwood, South Park and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman versus Cheers, St. Elsewhere, Boston Legal and Ally McBeal? Real World Denver v. Real World Boston?

And does Hunter S. Thompson singlehandedly outweigh Boston's entire literary tradition?

Monday, October 22, 2007

THROW BRICKS HERE: It's been about four years since I've written about the exploits of freshman-year roommate Jonathon Keats, then deep in the transition from campus conservative columnist to conceptual artist. Last weekend, the Homecoming issue of The Amherst Student caught up with our Oxford-shirted friend, and he's now creating pornography for plants, among other works.
GO NOW, GO NOW: I'm exaggerating only slightly (perhaps even not at all) when I note that tomorrow next Tuesday brings the first widely available DVD release of the most important TV show of the past 15-20 years. I speak, of course, of My So-Called Life. So much of today's pop culture (especially the good parts of it) is owed in part to MSCL. Let's take a few examples:
  • Pretty much everything Apatow-related. No MSCL means no Freaks and Geeks.
  • Friday Night Lights. The stark realism, honesty, and willingness to focus on outcasts are clearly children of MSCL. (Also, Veronica Mars, which is MSCL plus murder mystery, at least to an extent, and Felicity, which is MSCL goes to college.)
  • Wicked. Book by MSCL creator Winnie Holzman.
  • The careers of its cast, with Claire Danes becoming a (small) movie star, A.J. Langer and Tom Irwin continuing to work consistently in TV, and Jared Leto remaining famous pretty.
  • Subsequent Herskowitz/Zwick TV projects, including Once and Again and Relativity. (Among those who had big breaks on those shows? Lisa Edelstein, Richard Schiff, Poppy Montgomery, Adam Goldberg, and Evan Rachel Wood, and Patrick Dempsey's appearances on Once were part of how he become McDreamy.)

Celebrate the show. Knowing the demographic of this site and prior discussions, most of us have seen it. If you haven't, get thee to a local DVD emporium. If you have, you've probably already got plans to buy.

ONCE AGAIN HARNESSING THE POWER OF THE THINGTHROWERS FOR PERSONAL FAVORS: Apropos of absolutely nothing, would anyone happen to have this season's Heroes episodes in a format that can be burned to DVD and sent to someone? Like, for example, me?
MERELY WIRES AND LIGHTS IN A BOX: With the emergence of television in the late 1940s and 1950s, we have yet another game-changing development in pop-culture history -- the arrival of a new medium that, like its technological predecessors, would revolutionize the experience of entertainment. But TV went even further than its forebears, essentially combining elements of film, radio, live performance, print, and sound recordings in one simple box, thereby reshuffling the relationship among the mass media and putting television at the center of the action.

TV's rise neatly coincided with several key postwar trends, including economic expansion, the Cold War, suburbanization, and the baby boom. These developments in turn fostered some of TV's most striking features: its corporate organization, its role as "family entertainment," and its tendency toward conformity and standardization. Even more than radio before it, television was "born commercial," designed from the start not to deliver programs to viewers but to deliver viewers to advertisers. Accordingly, the major networks organized their schedules with military precision, filling time slots with programs best suited to the demographic cohort expected to be watching at that particular moment. Again, it's a familiar practice to us today, but we need to think about what that business model has meant for the content of television.

Early TV programming was not especially innovative, drawing heavily on formats already developed in other media. The Kraft Television Theater (1947) inaugurated a collection of "anthology drama" series; Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater (1948) launched a wave of variety shows; Hopalong Cassidy (1949) laid the groundwork for the mid-fifties explosion in westerns. For many viewers, though (then and now), TV's defining genre was the sitcom. David Marc's Comic Visions: Television Comedy and American Culture, excerpted in our textbook, offers a rigorous (if sometimes jargon-heavy) survey of the sitcom's rise, highlighting not just the technological developments of three-camera shooting and live studio audiences but the thematic trends that distinguished early comedies, from I Love Lucy (1951) to The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961). Time and again, Marc argues, sitcom heroes and heroines might push against the boundaries of postwar conformity, but they always wound up back home in the end, safe in the social order of Westport or New Rochelle. It was precisely this comfortable predictability, Marc claims, that made sitcoms the quintessential form of postwar popular culture.

By 1960, ninety percent of American homes had a television, and TV would reign as the dominant medium of popular culture for the rest of the twentieth century. My question to you: Is it still dominant? Is TV still at the heart of America's pop-culture life? Or has its place been usurped by PCs, the Web, and other digital media?
AS THE HOFF SAYS, C'MON AND JUMP IN MY CAR: Indian summer -- that inappropriately-named warm period that follows the first cold snap of the year -- is one of my favorite phenomena. I love warm weather, but living in eternally-balmy LA for all those years made me forget how much I like the tentative, hesitating warmth of unseasonable days like today.

My fondest memory of Indian summer is of a Saturday in the last October I spent in Seattle, when I spent most of the day tooling around my favorite parts of the city on my motorcycle -- along the canal across from Seattle Pacific, into Montlake and the arboretum, up into Sand Point and down among the waterfront cabins, then back up with the lake and the Eastside filling up the rear-view mirror. I have had a lot of memorable drives -- I-70 dipping down into Colorado River canyons; Route 34 into the back roads of Woodbridge, Connecticut; Highway 1 up into and down out of the Canadian Rockies; Kamehameha Highway on Oahu -- but I think that lazy Seattle circuit was my favorite.

We've already done the "worst airport" thread today. Does anybody have a best drive on this beautiful fall day?
OUR LITTLE WARRIOR PRINCESS IS ALL GROWNS UP: Sepinwall nails it with his recap of last night's Curb, although I think I was a little more creeped out by the obvious parallel between his real life and his fictional separation from Cheryl. Perhaps the single strangest moment in the episode, however, came upon the realization that Lucy Lawless looks better now than she did 12 years ago when her show first aired.
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL: Yeah, sure, the CW's Online Nation and FOX's Nashville (now officially canned) were the first casualties of the 2007 TV season, but at long last, we have the first scripted show to go down! And the winner is...Viva Laughlin, which will be canned today, only 4 days after its first airing (last Thursday) and after a disastrous time period debut last night. Good news stemming from this? TAR is considered a favorite to get the time slot in a few weeks, and this frees up Eric Winter to return to Brothers and Sisters.

In happier news, at least for the people who work on the shows, Private Practice, The Big Bang Theory, and The Unit have all been picked up for 22 episodes.

Update: Yes, TAR is back, effective November 4. The TAR leadin? Pats v. Colts, which ought to bring in some viewers.
ALOTT5MA--WHERE WE COVER THE ISSUES THAT MATTER: Time for another periodic truth squadding of the NYT on issues of grave pop cultural importance. Two errors jumped off the page at me today:
  • In an article about how when The Darjeeling Limited goes wide, it will be paired with the (much superior) "prologue" short Hotel Chevalier, the NYT claims that Chevalier star Natalie Portman "does not appear in the feature." While Portman's appearance in the feature is very brief, dialogue-free, and almost completely unbilled, she does appear.
  • In an article contrasting how House and Prison Break have coped with the need to transform their premises to stay fresh, Edward Wyatt asserts that "Dr. Gregory House fired one of his long-suffering assistants, leading the other two to resign." In fact, Foreman quit, and in an (exceedingly misguided) effort to get Foreman to stay, House fired Chase, leading to Cameron's resignation (and some very odd hairstyling choices by Jennifer Morrison).

We're quite certain that the Times regrets the errors.

DOES THE LEGAL SEAFOOD AT THE USAIRWAYS TERMINAL BREAK THE TIE? In considering all the Boston v. Colorado cultural matchups we could do here, some of them seem unfair -- no one wants to match up John Denver, The Samples, India.Arie and American Idol's Ace Young against Aerosmith, The Cars, Buffalo Tom and The Pixies.

But there is one battle that seems fair to start the week: which airport sucks less -- Boston's Logan International Airport or Denver International Airport? Do you prefer ancient and skeevy, or modernist, baggage-mishandling and ridiculously far from downtown? Explain your reasoning; show all work.
TULOWITZKI! ELLSBURY! So, it's Boston v. Colorado in the 2007 World Series, as the good people of Cleveland are left to suffer quietly through one more winter without the sympathy of the literati, having been ousted by a Red Sox team with only seven (?) players remaining from the 2004 champions.

It feels like a good time to link to the New Yorker's profile of Manny Ramirez from April 2007, and with that, let the talking of trash and offering of predictions and thoughts commence.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

ARMA VIRUMQUE CANO: How much do I love the fact that there is, in fact, a Wikipedia in Latin? Learn all about Publius Vergilius Maro in his native tongue. Of course, there are more amusing ways to learn about Latin grammar.
JUST SAYING, IS ALL: Football wins during the 2007 season:
Temple Owls: 3
Philadelphia Eagles: 2
NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH PUMAS: Today's Maureen Dowd column indicates something I'd missed earlier -- Democratic pollster Mark Penn has identified "Cougars" as a critically important group for microtargeting. Does this mean that candidates should consider hiring Barney Stinson for his expertise on the subject?