Saturday, May 24, 2008

ALMOST AS INCOHERENT AS PAULA: Yes, Idol is big, but it's far from the biggest singing contest in the world--that would, of course, be the annual Eurovision Song Contest, with full details here. Your winner this year is Russian performer Dima Bilan with "Believe." Prior winners include ABBA (1974 for "Waterloo"), Celine Dion (1988 for "Ne parlez sans moi," representing Switzerland), Katrina and the Waves (1997 for "Love Shine A Light"), and Finnish metal band Lordi. Nothing seems to be as awesome or meta-tastic as 2006 Lithuanian entry "We Are The Winners," performed by Lithuanian supergroup LT United.

Friday, May 23, 2008

IT CANNOT, MUST NOT, RAIN AT INDIAN WELLS: Now, I, like many of you, already own the complete series of Sports Night on DVD (though the set is now apparently out of print), but the transfers are balky and pixelized, and the set is entirely free of special features, so I'll likely be shelling out for this September's new 10th Anniversary set, which will feature not just the 45 episodes, but two disks of bonus features, including deleted scenes, commentaries, and interviews (personally, I'd love some screen tests/auditions). It's from Shout!Factory, the fine folks behind box sets for many shows beloved in these parts, including My So-Called Life, The Electric Company, Undeclared, and Freaks and Geeks.
BUNDESDERDEUSTCHLAND: There are many questions to be asked about Germany--do Germans, in fact, love David Hasselhoff? (Answer--not sure, seemed liked they were much more into Amy Winehouse, especially this one, which I hadn't heard before, and which is six kinds of awesome, though it takes about a minute to get started.) Is currywurst actually any good? (Gray's Papaya is just as good, though has less of a kick.) But what I want to talk about is museum theory. Sure, many of the museums don't require a lot of perspective--a 16th-17th century painting is a painting, and Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art/sculpture are pretty easy to talk about. The more difficult thing for Germany is the 20th Century, and Berlin in particular is still grappling with it, as, especially in the East, there's no real desire to remember or exhibit pretty much anything from the rise of Nazism in the 30s to the '89 fall of the wall.

While there's the old Fawlty Towers "don't mention the war" bit, at least post-reunification, there's been movement away from that--there's an impressive section on the rise of Nazism, the Nazi government, and the division of Germany at the German History Museum, an entire privately owned/operated museum devoted to a (surprisingly neutral) assessment of East Germany and its government (Stasi=bad, full employment=good!), and the relatively recent Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and Jewish Museum, as well as a small (and sadly, almost all-German) Memorial Museum of Resistance to Nazism. It raises an interesting question--how do you exhibit and discuss a period in history that you played the negative/villain role in? In most circumstances, the German museums do so with admitted frankness, talking about how demagoguery can reach people at their lowest points and (particularly at the Jewish Museum) being frank about the history of anti-Semitism in Europe and how it's been exploited. Talking about how things went wrong and why with honesty seems to me important, and it's impressive to see that the German government, which runs a number of these museums, is willing to do so, and raises challenges for us. (Contrast with, for instance, the Clinton Library in Little Rock, which turns the entirety of Monicagate and various other scandals into nothing more than a single panel of exhibit, and I say that as someone who voted for Clinton in '96, and would have done so in '92 had I been of age to do so.)
BE AN EXTRAORDINARY WOMAN; OR, ALTERNATIVELY, A STUPID BITCH: Whole lot of smooching going on during the Grey's Anatomy season finale -- nothing says "season finale" like a montage of smoochyness! This season hasn't bothered me as much as it has bothered some other people -- Alan Sepinwall, for example, has been positively grumpy -- but it is nice to see that perhaps there will be a bit less of the moping and a bit more of the dancing next season. (A world in which Cristina declines an opportunity to dance it out is, as far as I'm concerned, an undesirable world.)

I enjoyed both the dating-brain-tumors and boy, no, man-in-concrete storylines -- I had no idea that encasing oneself in concrete was that problematic beyond the issue of not being able to get oneself out of the concrete -- and thought all of the guest-appearance acting was quite excellent. But I don't think that this is really what people want to be discussing. You want to talk about the smooching. And maybe some of the bleeding and the crying, or maybe the stealing. But almost certainly the smooching.
SURVIVING WITHOUT SAMIR: How do we know that Bee season is around the corner? Because an online betting service is taking action on three prop wagers: will the winner be a boy? (Bet $140 to win $100; girls are even money.) Will the winner wear glasses? (-140 on no, even on yes.) And will the winning word be more or less than 8 1/2 letters long? (-150 on yes, +110 on no. Bet on 'yes'.) Here's an early look at some competitors:
  • Our youngest competitor -- indeed, the youngest in Bee history, is Sriram Hathwar of Big Flats, NY, who was seven years old and in second grade when he qualified in March. Hathwar survived nineteen two-person rounds to win his Bee, including four double misses, before his foe botched KRIPT-ohn and Hathwar nailed pah-ruh-LEL-uh-grahm and ihm-PEHR-vee-uhs for the win.
  • New Zealand's Thomas North will be traveling the furthest, and his coach insists North is "ready for university level linguistics papers." His hometown paper ironically notes, "As well as mastering the more unusual words of the English language, Thomas is also practising using the American spelling of words."
  • When asked if there was a secret to her success, Nishat Yasmin of Emporia, KS said: "Yeah, I'm competitive."
  • We always look out for the Jamaican competitors. This year it's Sade Dunbar, who's not accustomed to the schwa, but who will undoubtedly be polite.
  • Cathy Deng is the representative from the Athens, GA area, studying as late as 4 in the morning for the Bee.
  • Austin Hoke, a three-timer from Indiana, who has the right attitude for life -- just not for the Bee: "I am just kind of laying off it," Austin said. "It's really hard to (prepare), so I just figure I won't try."
And finally, ALOTT5MA fave and third-timer (at the age of 11!) Kavya Shivashankar did an interview with, and her favorite word? "Szczecin (pronounced sche-cheen), which comes from a city in Poland." (Hey, spellers: what makes this a word and not a proper name?)

Live coverage next Thursday and Friday. Right here. As always.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

DA DA DA DA, DA DA DA; DA DA DA DA, DA DA DA DA DA! If there's anyone out there who is not planning Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this weekend, please explain. Because, really: Raiders of the Lost Ark is a perfect movie, for reasons addressed at length in a blog symposium or which can be summarized in so many iconic lines: "Throw me idol, I'll throw you the whip." "Indy, why does the floor move?" "Bad dates."

So whether you want to discuss the brilliance of the Flying Wing sequence or confess your crush on Karen Allen, we're here for you, and like you, we're pretty excited right now to see a certain fedora and bullwhip one more time.
A LACK OF TYRAGASM: I am sitting in my hotel room watching Heidi Klum host Germany's Next Top Model. I have almost no idea what she's saying (though "top model"="top model"), which isn't really that different from Project Runway, is it?
SNORT THE PIXIE DUST: I have a great fondness for articles about the inevitable clash of the self-aware and Disney middle-management. Here's the story of a man who played Jack Sparrow.
A TALE OF GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP: By now, you’ve probably figured out that baseball and the Boston Red Sox are near and dear to my heart. Some of you might also know that helping to raise money for cancer research is also a passion of mine, having lost my father and uncle to cancer in the recent past.

So when a story about cancer and the Red Sox comes together, I get pretty excited. On Monday, Jon Lester, a 24-year old cancer survivor, pitched a no-hitter for the Sox. Two years ago, it was uncertain whether Lester would even be able to survive.

One of things about the story that impressed me was the reaction of the other team, the Royals. Here are some quotations from them:

Billy Butler: "He didn't make any mistakes," he murmurs. And to the next question: "He didn't make any mistakes," he murmurs again.

Mark Teahen: "It's not embarrassing," he says. "It's just ... he was good."

Finally, Brian Bannister: "If someone had to throw a no-hitter against us, I'm glad it was Jon," he finally says. "That's just an amazing story after what he has gone through. As a fellow pitcher, I can see just how amazing this is. It hurts to get no-hit, but you think about what he did. You know, that's why I love this game."

The reactions of the Royals players exemplify good sportsmanship.
HELLO. IS IT ME YOU'RE LOOKING FOR? When I think about this season, I'm reminded of something I said two years ago: "the goal of the show is not to produce the next great superstar. (If that happens, great, but it's not necessary from Fox's or 19Entertainment's perspective.) The goal of the show is to get you to watch the next episode. So from their perspective, unpredictability is good."

But there's good unpredictability and bad unpredictability. The bad kind is when people like Scott Savol and Nikki McKibbin outlast folks who are much more worthy, and the feeling of injustice taints one's enjoyment of the show (and has, in the past, made me quit watching seasons due to frustration). The good kind was this season, where even though we had a pretty good general sense as to how things would shake out, we cared enough about the performers to be invested in their ultimate order of elimination -- and that order ended up being pretty satisfying, from a dramatic perspective.

This season, we had twelve talented and truly distinct finalists who were often saddled with lame theme weeks, so the singing wasn't as impressive as what we've seen in the past. But the drama was pretty compelling, and whatever little steps the producers took this season to get us to know the finalists a bit better, they worked.

I have no idea whether David Cook is going to be a successful recording artist in this marketplace. All I know is that the past three months of television have persuaded me to root for him to succeed, and that's more than I can say for most seasons of the show. Well done, 19E.
WATCH 'EM RUN AMUCK: Given the opportunity to rethinking and restage the musical Les Misérables, what would you do? Read on about the new Philadelphia production, turntable-free with a single-unit barricade.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

DAVID WINS! No, I won't say which one here, not yet, not until the West Coasters extend their TiVos by 10 minutes. My TiVo cut off at the very moment Ryan Seacrest said "And the winner is David ...," and I missed a minute's worth of the actual announcement as I had two shows set to record at 10pm. So result in the comments, and everything else, I'll spoil.

The suck:
  • Mike Myers, Mike Myers, Mike Myers. No amount of promotion will make me want to see that movie.
  • Bryan Adams' hair, and the fact that he looks like Jeff Probst's dissolute older brother.
  • Amanda Overmyer trying to sing Donna Summer. Or sing anything.
  • You get a car! You get a car!
  • Nothing was quite as awesome as Doug E. Fresh + Blake Lewis, except maybe the USC Marching Band.
  • Jimmy Kimmel's obviously pre-taped monologue.
  • Not enough Chikezie.
  • The return of Matthew Rogers.
The awesome:
I'll say this much about the result: I think the winner now understands what this means, and he showed it. More to say in comments, and after the West Coast feed.

Sepinwall kept a diary: "Seal comes out to duet with Syesha on 'Waiting For You.' After what Constantine Maroulis and other contestants have done to 'Kiss From a Rose' over the years on this show, I admire his willingness to associate himself with this show. Then again, Heidi and the baby Seals gotta eat. Not a bad number, really."

As did Dan Fienberg: "
Jordin Sparks wants us to live her American Idol dream as some Disney theme park. The attraction will include having an underperforming debut album and being put on vocal rest."
WHAT? THAT WE SHOULD HAVE DINNER WITHOUT COMPLIMENTARY SOUP OR SALAD? As Kim explained to me via email, that would be Northeast Philadelphia Jewish Survivor, as opposed to the first Israeli edition of the show which just wrapped up as a major hit. And while the credits and rewards may generally feel familiar, I want to highlight three neat differences:
  • One reward? Shabbat Dinner with Challah, honey, wine and Shabbat Candles for the whole team, with the winning tribe sharing the reward with the losers "because Jews don't stop other Jews from eating a Shabbat dinner."
  • Rules Change #1, a spinoff of the 'outcasts' season called "Island of the Dead": "Every person voted out is brought to the island, and had to compete with the person already staying there, for the right to stay on the island for at least another three days. When only three contestants remained, the winner of the last battle of the island returned."
  • Rules Change #2, which I'd love to see once in an American season, "The Double Power Challenge": "an individual challenge, which is played after the Immunity challenge. Every person going to Tribal Council had to compete, and the winner of the challenge won an additional power at Tribal Council. In Episodes 1-5, and from Episode 11, the winner of the challenge could vote twice at tribal council for two contestants. In Episodes 6-8, the Double-Power Challenge winner won Individual Immunity. In Episodes 9 and 10, the winner chose two contestants who couldn't vote at Tribal Council."
The Jerusalem Post explains the 5-4-0 final Tribal Council vote, with the third receiving no support as "a stinging reality check from those he ruthlessly and tirelessly plotted against," because among Israelis as much as everyone else, "those that you've voted off in order to reach the final still must like you enough as a person to make you the winner." Go figure.
RETURN OF THE HOT TAMALE EXPRESS: So now that AI is ambling towards its David-infused conclusion, it's time to start talking about the really important things in life. Like tomorrow night's return of So You Think You Can Dance, for example.

Looking at the roster of judge/choreographers for this season's festivities, I am a little sad to note the absence of Wade Robson and Dan Karaty, but am hopeful that they'll turn up as choreographers even if they're not part of the jidging rotation. (And the lack of mention of Shane Sparks is a little encouraging, given his creative burnout partway through last season.) For those of you who can't keep their Hok and their Lacey straight, here's a little reminder of some of the memorable characters and dances from last season. (Hummingbird! Neil! Office politics! Sabra! Two kings! Danny! Dead father dance!) Who's with me?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

JIM LAMPLEY, MUSICAL CONSULTANT: Lame, lame opening, and only one of the Boomtown rats (actually, crap, why didn't Cook try "I Don't Like Mondays"?) tried to win the title of American Idol tonight. And not the one we like:
  • Cook/"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For": A little inert and restrained (but not bad) vocally, but a decent performance -- why has no one else gone into the crowd this season? (Didn't David Hernandez in his one finals week?) It looked like a good performance, but I was whelmed at best. Should've used the backing singers more, I think.
  • YDA/"Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me": Performed previously on the show by Clay Aiken, Bo Bice and Justin Guarini, all of whom ended up second. An omen? It's a wordy song, and he did it well.
  • Cook/Generic Inspirational Song: It was fine, but I don't want to hear it again.
  • YDA/Generic Inspiational Song: Yawn. I miss Fantasia's "I Believe".
  • Cook/"The World I Know": An odd choice, and an interesting reworking, but not a performance that wins competitions. With a live audience eager to worship, this song as a bit of a punt. It was time for an anthem, time to blow people away, and he didn't. Why's he crying?
  • YDA/"Imagine": Perfectly lovely, but exactly the same as what we heard three months ago. Where's the choir? Where's anything different?
It's all about expectations -- Young David Archuleta gave us exactly what we expected, and David Cook gave us less than what we hoped for. Based on that, bet on the one with the dead, dead eyes to win.

Fienberg concurs: "David Cook didn't phone it in tonight. He gave three good performances. But when he said at the beginning that he didn't want to complete, he just wanted to have fun making music, it was telling. He didn't try to lose, but I feel like he was willing to let David Archuleta win."

Sepinwall: "I think Cook really needed to blow the kid's doors off tonight and, though I enjoyed all three of his performances, the first was the only one that was close to showy enough to really sway people, while Archuleta belted himself silly."
THE CATCHER HITS FOR .318 AND CATCHES EVERY DAY: Norristown (PA) native Mike Piazza, a former 62nd-round draft pick who developed into the best-hitting catcher of the post-Bench (possibly post-Berra) era and a twelve-time All Star, announced his retirement from baseball today. His statistics suggest immediate induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame upon his eligibility five years from now, a class that will likely include Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio and Sammy Sosa as his fellow first-timers.
THRUPPENCE AND SIXPENCE EVERY DAY JUST TO DRIVE TO MY BABY: The problem with the Very Special Episodes of House is that they neutralize the show's greatest asset, Hugh Laurie's comic gift. They don't have to -- House was pretty funny in "Three Stories," for example -- but they often do, whether because they're keeping House busy overdosing or thinking his way out of bullet holes and bus crashes or displaying human-like emotions toward Wilson. Combine that with some clunky dialogue (and I don't blame the actors involved, who I like), and I say that as much as I want to vary the formula, in this case the formula would have been better.

Which is not to say there was nothing to like. House's new team hasn't had much to do since they were hired, but we learned something that felt important about each of them. We also saw Cuddy's protectiveness of House in its natural, unguarded state, and Chase finally got a chance to drill a hole into House's head and administer shock torture. That felt earned.
SITTING ON A CORNFLAKE, WAITING FOR THE VAN TO COME: The NYT Science section highlights something I think we all know deep down to be true -- the walrus is a pretty awesome, odd animal.
BOOMTOWN: We started with thousands, then 164 to Hollywood, then 24 in the semis, 12, 11 ... and down to David and David for the title of Your American Idol (VII). If the format holds from years past, tonight's three songs each -- one repeat from earlier in the competition, one new number and one crappy inspirational song that only Fantasia Barrino and Jordin Sparks have ever pulled off credibly.

If I'm advising the competitors, I tell Cook that even though "Music of the Night" has been his best number, as long as he has to do the inspirational song already he needs something more rockin' as balance. Bring back "Baba O'Riley" if they'll let the song go for longer they did the last time; otherwise, his semis version of Lionel Ritchie's "Hello" makes most sense. For YDA (w/HD,DE), his version of Robbie Williams' "Angels" can really work well expanded in the big room with an accompanying choir.

But, as it turns out, we've got spoilers, and I'm wrong on both counts. The format is Inspirational Song, You Pick A Song, and Clive Davis Picks A Song, and I think YDA chose wisely from his catalog, and I'm intrigued by Cook's new selection. In terms of other songs to suggest to them, I think either could have an interesting time with The Fray's "How To Save A Life," and I'd love to see YDA stretched with "Louisiana 1927".

Sepinwall's preview: "Archuleta didn't flub the lyrics every time out. Instead, clearly spooked by what happened on an uptempo number, he went back in his ballad box, giving the same sedate, technically-impressive, lifeless performance week after week. Even when he was good, he was dull. ... Not since season two's Ruben Studdard had an 'Idol' favorite been such a blatant one-trick pony, and had such a substantial charisma deficit to go along with it. The difference is, the 'Idol' producers and judges were in Ruben's corner from day one and never left, while the show in general and Simon Cowell in particular seemed to lose interest in young David weeks ago.... Really, neither result would surprise me at this point, and I'm almost rooting for Archuleta -- not to validate my premature prediction, but because I'd hate to imagine what the drive home with his dad would be like if he loses."

I'm rooting for Cook. We're all rooting for David Cook, right?

Monday, May 19, 2008

DID YOU BELIEVE IN "MIRACLES"? Only, perhaps, if you find Ted Moseby to still be charming and if you're really eager to find out whether he has met Your Mother. I still don't think so (unless Finch's Wendy the Waitress theory is true), and while I loved the pencil gag, the rest just had a very odd pacing and disjointed tone all around.

Overall, and even accounting for the strike's disrupting things, I have to mark HIMYM Season 3 as not-awesome compared to its predecessors. I wonder if the producers need a confirmed end-date, just as Lindelof and Cuse received, in order to move things forwards appropriately. Really: was there an A+/A episode this season?
25 * 4 = 0: With the defeat of the Orange and Black yesterday in the NHL playoffs, Philadelphia's four major sports teams have now logged one hundred seasons since the 1982-83 Sixers championship without winning a league title. SI's Bryan Armen Graham does a solid job listing the hundred most painful Philadelphia sports moments and decisions during that span, from the Doug Moe Era to the Tommy Hutton Game to the Danny Tartabull signing to last season's Winston Justice Invitational, and I attended or watched live a disturbing number of the non-hockey games listed.

That said, I'm not sure how you can compile such a list without spending time on the Jerome Brown and Pelle Lindbergh tragedies. I have to assume that this game was #101, because it still hurts. They all do ...

e.t.a. The Inq's Don McKee insists we're only up to 98: MLB 1994 and NHL 2004 awarded no titles.
DEAD BRANDS STATUTE: Given where I am this week, it's particularly appropriate that I provide linkage to this fascinating article in yesterday's Times Magazine about River West, a company that's functioning entirely on the business model of bringing once dead brands, like Underalls, Eagle Snacks, Brim, and Nuprin, back to life. Suggest other brands that are gone which you'd buy again in the comments.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

GAIUS BALTAR: THE EDGE OF REASON: Sorry I've not had a BSG thread up the last couple of weeks. But this week's was the best episode so far this season and, for my cubits, that was the best episode ending since Grace Park put a bullet into the old man's chest.

Also, Mrs. Earthling was flipping past Bridget Jones on cable last night. I knew I'd seen Gaius Baltar before.