Thursday, December 31, 2009

I just completed a hastily assembled list of the Top 31 movies of the decade and "The Wire" towers over any one of them and, as a 60-hour series, probably towers over the totality of my list of 31 movies. I didn't do a list of my favorite books of the decade, but rest-assured that "The Wire" ranks above any novel I've read in the decade, especially as a piece of cumulative storytelling. So, keeping things neat and simple, I have no trouble saying that "The Wire" is the decade's defining creative endeavor.

Soon you start expanding the circle, though. Is "The Wire" the best series ever produced for television? I'd say "Yes," while acknowledging that there's competition.

But looking more broadly still, if I'm teaching a college course on the United States of America and the American Dream -- it's a big topic, so it's probably an intro AmCiv class -- I'm putting "The Wire" on the syllabus next to "Citizen Kane" and "The Godfather II," alongside "Moby Dick," "The Jungle," The Great Gatsby," "Invisible Man" and "The Grapes of Wrath."

Okay, New Year's Cultural Resolution: I guess I should finally start watching those Wire DVDs that I have at home ...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

IF YOU LIKE IT THEN YOU SHOULDA GOTTA FEELING: DJ Earworm mashes up the Billboard Top 25 Hits of 2009. Impressive. (Also, his 2007 and 2008 editions.)
JASON CASTRO WILL NOT BE AMUSED: Via PopWatch, some website claims to rank The Ten Worst Muppets and yet manages to skip Rizzo the Rat and Lew Zealand. Go figure.
I'VE ANALYZED THIS MOVIE WITH A GROUP OF CHEERLEADERS, WHO CAME TO THE UNANIMOUS CONCLUSION THAT IF I LET THEM GO THEY WOULDN'T TELL NOBODY: It seems improbable, statistically, that I would be anywhere near the first person in the ALOTT5MA community, congenially well-informed-about-funny-stuff as it tends to be, to hear about the70 Minute Mike From Milwaukee Review of Phantom Menace. Nonetheless, on the off chance that you've not yet been exposed, and are turning out of habit to the interwebs for distraction even during the slow posting season surrounding the winter holidays, allow me to recommend devoting several conveniently compartmentalized 10 minute blocks of your time to this last minute nominee for Best Humorous But Deadly Accurate Film Criticism, Long Format, 2000-2010. [NSFW].

Via /Film, via thewebsiteisdown.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"I'M JUST BORED TO DEATH AND UNIMPRESSED WITH HOLLYWOOD AND OUR COUNTRY": Bitter, party of one, your table is now ready. Good evening, Gallagher.

Among the things for which the 2003 California gubernatorial candidate takes credit in this week's AV Club interview? "I was the first one to allow a projectile to come off of the stage and into the audience. And I kind of take responsibility for the mosh pit. Major amusement parks now have splash rides—you don’t even have to be a participant in the ride to get splashed, you can be on a bridge." Also, includes YouTubage of the comic going Jamie Foxx-on-Doug Williams (okay, not as good as Foxx was, of course) on one of his opening acts. [Pretty much every link here is NSFW.]
THE GREAT TABLOID CRASH OF 2009: TaylorSquared (aka Taylors Swift and Lautner) are no more. Having not seen New Moon, my exposure to Lautner has been limited to his SNL appearance, which made my Gaydar ping quite loudly. I'm sure we can expect a song about this--maybe Swift will add a little Zevon to her live show?
THE SOUP IS F$#@(*$ TEN DOLLARS!: A graphic dissection of a menu showing the typographical tropes used to steer you away from the $115 seafood platter to the bargain $39 filet.
SPACEWOMAN ORDERED ME TO ASK THIS: What are we going to call 2010? Is it going to be twenty-ten or two-thousand-ten (Arthur C. Clarke-style)? Zolo? We only have a few days to reach consensus.
QUANDRIES FOR JACQUES BAILLY: Is that thing now pictured in our masthead a "Tree-Buck-it" or a "Tray-boo-chay?" Related--is the game you play with rackets and a shuttlecock (yes, cue Butthead laughing) "bad-mitten" or "bad-mint-on?"
THAT'S WHAT THEY DESIGNATED HIM FOR: In a few days, an electorate that ranges from insightful to barely literate will mail in its Baseball Hall of Fame ballots, and too few of those ballots will have Edgar Martinez on them.

The case for Edgar Martinez is simple. He was, in his 16+ seasons, one of the game's elite hitters. His career numbers -- depressed by a subpar final season and the three years he spent leading AAA in batting, thus shortening his peak -- include a .312 batting average (including two batting titles and seven top-8 finishes), a .418 OBP (including three OBP titles and 11 top-6 finishes), and a .515 slugging percentage (including six top-10 finishes). His career OBP is 22nd of all time; his career OPS is 34th. Other than Shoeless Joe Jackson (banned from baseball), Ferris Fain (1947-55), and Max Bishop (1924-35), Edgar has the highest OBP of any HOF-eligible player who is not in the HOF; only 10 members of the HOF have higher OBPs than he does. Edgar had eight seasons with an OPS+ greater than 150, and as ESPN's David Schoenfeld points out, only 24 other players can say that, all of whom (a) are in the Hall of Fame; (b) will be in the Hall of Fame; (c) are formally or informally barred from the HOF for steroid or gambling reasons; or (c) are Dick Allen. That he did all of this with a degenerative eye disease, as a right-handed batter (his 1992 batting average was the highest for a right-handed hitter since 1959), playing a significant portion of his career in Safeco (which disfavors RH hitters in a way that park adjustments don't reflect) is simply icing on the cake. With those numbers, plus the fact that he is, by all accounts, a wonderful human being (he is one of 8 MLB players to have been inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame), if his hat said "NY" or "B," he certainly would be in the Hall of Fame.

There are two, and exactly two, things that will keep him out. The first is that he spent most of his career as a designated hitter. Some of the people who make this argument believe that the DH is not a valid baseball position (and perhaps is just a passing phase), or at least is less valid than others. To these people, I say: (a) the NL is more likely to adopt the DH than the AL is to jettison it; (b) the DH is now old enough to run for President, and its children can vote for it; (c) nobody ever argues that AL pitchers should be excluded from the HOF because they don't bat; (d) the HOF includes, legitimately, a number of relief specialists whose contributions to the game are subsantially inferior to Martinez's; and (e) the HOF is already a little bit pregnant -- a third and a quarter of the games played by Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Jim Rice (two players whose offensive stats were inferior to Martinez's) were at DH. Those two would not be in the HOF but for their performance as designated hitters. A more sophisticated argument is that Martinez should be penalized, not excluded, for being a DH. The response to this is that: (a) using Fangraphs's positional adjustment of -17.5 runs/season for a DH, Martinez's stats suffer, but he remains above the HOF cutoff; but (b) who penalizes players for defense, anyway? Under this argument, Edgar still comes out only slightly behind, say, Manny Ramirez (a somewhat better LH hitter, but a spectacularly bad fielder playing a -7.5 defensive position) and substantially ahead of Jim Rice (a worse hitter playing a -7.5 defensive position badly). More generally, in response to both of these arguments, look: DH is a position played, pursuant to the rules of professional baseball, by professional baseball players. If baseball recognizes the position, shouldn't baseball's Hall of Fame recognize the greatest DH of the first 30 years of that position?

The other argument that people raise with respect to Martinez is that his rate stats are great, but his counting stats are so-so. Me, I'm a big fan of rate stats; not so much a fan of career counting stats. They reward people who hang on too long and who hurt their teams by making a lot of outs while pursuing a few hits and homers. But if you care about those things, then consider this: (a) one of the reasons that Edgar has too few hits is that the idiot Mariners left him to abuse AAA pitching for three years while Jim Presley stunk up the hot corner in Seattle; and (b) another is that he walked so often -- he theoretically could have traded many of his walks for somewhat fewer hits, but that would have hurt his team. The fact is that when Martinez came to the plate, pitchers did not say to themselves, "I should pitch to him -- he doesn't have that many career hits." Pitchers knew that Martinez would punish them if they threw him anything to hit, and he did, which is why they often didn't give him anything to hit.

Edgar Martinez won't be in the Hall of Fame this year, but he should be.
YOUR TAUNTAUN WILL FREEZE BEFORE YOU REACH THE SOUTH MARKER (BUT YOUR LITTLE ONES WILL BE TOASTY AND WARM): My Mom, being awesome, bought the Little Earthling (and two of his cousins) each a Tauntaun Sleeping Bag.

The Little Earthling is on quite a Star Wars kick (and is especially fond of his Star Wars Lego and, moreso, his Lego Tauntaun). I had, nevertheless, kept him completely ignorant of the existence of this thing. He was blown away -- I can only imagine this was as good as Mom running down the last BigTrak in 1979 after resetting my expectations that there were none to be bad -- and the Wee Earthling (two in February) screaming Tauntaun! Tauntaun! at the top of her lungs was the first time I'd ever really regretted not having a video camera immediately at hand.

Enough ink has been spilt about the concept, so I just wanted to make a quick note on the product itself. It's great. It's adult size -- it's safe to say I don't box welterweight and I fit in very comfortably -- and surprisingly warm. The construction seems solid. The only weak part I can tell is the horn, which I would have stitched on completely, rather than at the base and with a single (but solid) attachment at the point. That part will fail first, but not soon. And heavy rough-housing might give the limbs a bit of a fright. It's plush, so this is a strictly indoor bag and I'd avoid even a tent in the backyard since this will pick up dirt easily. Of course, given that no one wants the things to smell bad on the inside, apparently machine washable (says the website; the tag inside says surface wash only).

This could have been all hat and no, er, Tauntaun, but it's a solid piece of merchandise. Is it worth the $99 list price over at ThinkGeek? I don't know about that, but you won't be disappointed by the item itself. It won't last forever, but I trust I will be fighting to keep this around the house long after the Little Earthling has gone to college.

Monday, December 28, 2009

PARDON OUR DUST: In connection with a comments upgrade currently in process, things may look a little strange around here today. Don't worry--everything will be back to normal (or at least as normal as we get around here) shortly.
IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT WINNING, SEBASTIAN: Congratulations to my co-blogger Alex Gordon, whose Sham Wows (runners-up, J.T. Marlin Division) bested my Germane Crowell Intentions (winners, Brewster Keegan Division) by a 103-91 score in the 2009 ALOTT5MA FFL Championship Game.

A hint to future competitors: apparently, it's good to get more than seven total points out of your three starting wide receivers (Wayne, Chambers, Britt).
OUR BALLS ARE IN YOUR COURT: Among the more prestigious -- or at least, the most consistent awards I've given out each year on the site is the ALOTT5MA Award for Funniest Half Hour of Television of the Year. Our past winners are:
2004: The Daily Show, Night Two of the Democratic National Convention ("My father was a poor Virginia turd-miner ... ")
2005: South Park, "Best Friends Forever"
2006: The Office, "The Injury"
2007: 30 Rock, "The Source Awards"
2008: The Colbert Report, April 17, 2008 (Edwards, Clinton, Obama cameos from Philadelphia.)
The answer didn't come immediately to me, because the funniest show I remember from this year is technically ineligible -- the Office episode "Stress Relief" which followed the Super Bowl lasted an hour, but oh, what an hour. Save Bandit! Boom, roasted. You don't have any friends or any family or any land. (Alan has more.) But rules are rules, and an hour is not a half hour. (Same goes for the wedding episode, which was warm and wonderful.)

So I started thinking about other shows, and in particular Modern Family, and mostly about "Fizbo," which between its nonlinear structure and the confrontation at the gas station brought an already great show to a new level of awesome. People are gonna stare! They're not used to seeing one clown in a car!

Anyone wanting to declare "Fizbo" the winner can do so with confidence, and I'll confess to not having seen enough Parks & Recreation (or Better Off Ted, or this season of Curb) to know if I'm really missing an obvious winner from there.

But in the end, I went back through that list of Office episodes and was reminded of "Broke," in which Dunder Mifflin was forced to buy out the Michael Scott Paper Company -- of which I said at the time "I take back every skeptical thing I said about The Office last week. That was beautiful. I do love it when Michael demonstrates his intelligence." Indeed, it's where his childish stubbornness and business savvy merge perfectly:
Michael Scott: I'll see your situation and I'll raise you a situation. Your company is losing clients left and right. You have a stockholder meeting coming up and you are going to have to explain to them why your most profitable branch is bleeding. So they may be looking for a little change in the CFO. So I don't think I need to wait out Dunder Mifflin. I think I just have to wait out you.
Michael Scott: Our company is worth nothing. That's the difference between you and I. Business isn't about money to me, David. If tomorrow my company goes under I will just start another paper company. And then another and another and another. I have no shortage of company names.
David Wallace: Michael ...
Michael Scott: That's one of 'em! Yes!
(Alan thought it was superb.) The Office has remained strong over the years while contemporaries like 30 Rock have faltered. Its creators understand that the best comedy starts from great, nuanced characters engaged in plots about which we care. This year saw the rise and fall of the Michael Scott Paper Company, Pam and Jim's wedding (proving again that love need not ruin a show) and the gradual collapse of Dunder Mifflin itself amid these trying economic times. Just because it's a sitcom doesn't mean it can't also be ambitious, and I am happy to acknowledge the greatness of The Office one more time.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

YOU CAN DO A SHOT-BY-SHOT READING OF THE SCENE UNTIL THE COWS COME HOME AND YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO SEE A GUN IN THE MEMBER ONLY GUY'S HAND: Our Friend Dan Fienberg has been counting down the top 31 television series of the decade, and if The Sopranos are only #5, the top four had better be really good. (Okay: The Wire, The Shield, Mad Men and Arrested Development appear to be what's left.)

It's all high quality writing, and on a website which gives Dan the space to do the analysis these shows deserve. Here's some of what Dan had to say about #7, American Idol:
You watched "Idol" for the awesomeness and you watched it for the awfulness. You watched to see who Simon will make cry and, in the Aughts at least, you watched to see who would make Paula cry. You watched for the strange guest judges -- Quentin Tarantino is probably one of the few who actually worked -- and the awkward guest mentors (Randy Travis' poorly concealed horror at hearing Adam Lambert's version of "Ring of Fire" was a classic). And you tuned in for the scandals that "Idol" either would or wouldn't address, the abruptly dismissed contestants, the contestants weathering dirty picture storms, the weird voting SNAFUs. You watched for the musical guests who looked like they'd rather be any place else and for the washed up icons desperate for the attention.

And I would be remiss in not pointing out the 2007 and 2008 "Idol Gives Back" specials. If raising $130 million for various charities isn't worthy of some "best" consideration, nothing is. Seriously, $130 million. Make fun of that. I dare you.
Dan's essays are a great way to spend some time during a week in which I hope you're not doing too much work.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

THE OH-OHS: It's not just that I'll read any article about our nation's continuing failure to put a name on this decade; it's the use of the following analogy by the Washington Post's Michael Rosenwald which will take some readers here back more than a decade to the pre-WWW version of this blog ...
"It's really kind of amusing to me," said Dennis Baron, a University of Illinois linguist and curator of a Web site that decodes language in the news. "People think if we don't have anything to call the decade, that maybe we will forget it, that it will be some kind of orphan decade, that it won't exist. But it's simply not true."

For evidence, see: the romantic partner of an older adult who is not married. The phenomenon exists; there just isn't a good, specific word for it.

"If you are 60 years old, saying 'my girlfriend' sounds stupid," Sheidlower said. " 'Partner' sounds too businesslike or suggests a gay relationship. 'Companion' doesn't sound romantic. The Census Bureau calls it POSSLQ -- persons of opposite sex sharing living quarters. That obviously doesn't work. The fact that there is a need for a word doesn't mean it will arise."
I think we settled on "lover," just because it was too amusing not to use. Either that or "special lady."

Friday, December 25, 2009

MAYBE THIS WAS AN ILL-FATED GIFT CHOICE: My father attempting to Wii Bowl sounds frightfully like Monica Seles playing tennis, complete with the grunting. Video may follow.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


MALCOLM GLADWELL IS NEVER OUT OF STYLE: As we start the ushering-out of 2009, it's worth recalling that at the start of the year the WaPo's Hank Stuever (as he does every year, and we do blog about it) attempted to predict what would be "in" and "out" in 2009. Some of his soothsaying proved correct (Senators in, Governors out; honeycrisp apples in, fujis out); some didn't ("slow blogging" did not trample tweeting; Dwight & Angela did not prove more compelling than Pam & Jim); I'm calling Fleet Foxes v. Kings of Leon a draw; and in a typographical battle this writers is keenly interested in, I'm not sure if REVENGE OF CAPS LOCK has, indeed, negated my occasional need to Emphasize. Things. With. Periods.
ALL THAT'S MISSING IS A CAMEO FROM XAVIER MCDANIEL: Commenter Stacey wanted to clue us in on a battle that's been raging in the Seattle suburbs -- between the Shorewood and Shorecrest High Schools in the realm of all-school lip-syncing (or, apparently, "lip dubbing"). Yes, the Shorecrest filmed-in-a-single-take "Hey Ya" is an impressive technical feat ... but then, OMG (as the kids would say, as I understand it) the Shorewood response is blow-your-mind awesome. I won't spoil the twist, though there's some background here to read when you're done. Enjoy, and know that at least in the Pacific Northwest the kids may, in fact, be alright.
NEW DEFINITION OF SUMMER MADNESS: The Inquirer's Peter Mucha is trying to figure out what happened to Will Smith, who released no films in 2009 and does not star in any films which have wrapped or even begun filming at this point. An Oscar-seeking Flowers for Algernon remake may be next.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

IT WOULDN'T BE TOO SURPRISING IF ADAM DURITZ'S PEA-SIZED BRAIN WAS 85% DREADLOCKS, 10% WATER, AND 5% ACTRESS PHONE NUMBERS: The Village Voice (remember them?) ranks the 50 Worst Songs of the Aughts, a list it claims is topped (bottomed?) by the Counting Crows/Vanessa Carlton cover of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi." Why? Here's part of it:
Let us speak right into whichever of Duritz's ears doesn't have a cockily tipped wool hat over it. Adam, we don't know if you misunderstood the song's anti-globalization, anti-industrialization, anti-corporation message, or just chose to ignore it so you could get free Frappucinos for life. But we're gonna hip you to a harsh reality. Seriously, you know the line about how they "paved paradise and put up a parking lot?" Like how they replaced something beautiful with something cold and heartless and commercial? That's you. You're the parking lot, motherf**ker. You drove your shitty steamroller over something everyone loved so you could pander your sensitive pussyhound whine to people waiting in line at the Carl's Jr. They paved Nirvana and put up a Counting Crow. Argh!
added: Gang, I didn't say I agreed with the list, though I'm going to be a fan of anything that snarks on Sideshow Duritz. So, what is the Worst Song of the Aughts, then?
TOWARD A GRAND UNIFIED THEORY OF POP CULTURE: As I've mentioned, I'm well behind on Mad Men, and am wrapping up the first season DVD--one disc to go! Admittedly, I know certain key arcs already (the big Peggy reveal in Season 1, and the gist of what happened at the end of Season 3 both at work and at home for Don), so things that might have been subtle and/or shocking (e.g., the remarks about Peggy gaining weight and her skirt not fitting) get a bit anvil-y. However, I have developed the following principle--the quality of an episode of Mad Men, is typically inversely proportional to the amount of screen time and dialogue January Jones has in it. Seriously, "suburbia in the 50/60s is a quiet repressed hell" is a pretty dry well by now, but the advertising stuff is seriously fascinating.
THE TRIBE HAS SPOKEN: It's actually not that hard for me to identify most of my favorite Reality TV Seasons of the Aughts -- the great ones had such strong narratives and vivid characters throughout, as well as demonstrations of individual excellence which made them truly memorable. This list is not so much ranked, but it is structured:

Any such list has to start with Survivor: Original Recipe. It created the mold into which so much which followed was poured, not just by bringing the reality competition genre to the States but by lucking into a narrator/protagonist as brilliant as Richard Hatch in both playing the game strategically and explaining to viewers what he was doing. We didn't know what we were getting into -- and neither did the Pagong tribe, which turned its name into a verb along with creating so much of the other language we now use across the genre, from alliances to "immunity" to I'm Not Here To Make Friends to -- and this doesn't get noted often enough -- putting an out gay man front and center of the show.

Yeah, okay, so they may have messed with Stacey Stillman's chances in order to keep Rudy in the game artificially, and it was a shame Gervase couldn't swim ... but it really was important for Burnett to show that this wasn't just going to be a game for the young and fit. In the end, as Chuck Klosterman discusses in his new book, "Those first voters made a critical distinction. They decided that the ability to succeed at Survivor without natural skills was more impressive than succeeding with one's own aptitude and work ethic. They decided that that the ability to drag everyone down to the middle required more strategy than transcending the group alone. They invented what success at Survivor was supposed to signify."

And it was only by one vote. The other Survivor seasons which I have to add to any top ten list are Palau and Guatemala, one after the other in 2005. Palau had the demolition of the Ulongs, Janu's quitting followed by the Tom-Ian showdown for which we had waited all season; Guatemala was one of the best strategic games we've seen, with Stephenie, Danni, Rafe, Gary Hogeboom Hawkins and freakin' Judd, man, all trying their best. It's a ridiculously entertaining season. (Just left off the list: Pearl Islands -- the Rupert/Fairplay/Lill/Savage/Osten year.)

You know that The Amazing Race will get several slots on any list I'm preparing, and I don't need to like the winner to love the season, as long as the ride is fun. That's why Season 3, with FloZac, Teri-Ian, Team FireCop and the model twins tops this chart. Here's what I wrote in 2002 after the finale, and especially this: "[G]ood reality tv reveals character, and TAR does it better than any other show by placing characters in familiar settings, and not hermetically sealed bubbles. Many of us know what it's like to travel while fatigued, to have to deal with foreign cultures . . . to find a cab in an American downtown.... Plain and simple, this was television at its best -- a great travelogue, plus a great study of human emotions. Surprising, thrilling, revealing, and most of all, entertaining, and there's nothing wrong with a little entertainment now and then." Joining it on my top ten list, because I'm clearly not limiting myself to one-season-per-show, are Seasons 2 and 5 -- the first dominated by TaraWil and Team Cha Cha Cha, the latter by Colin/Christie, Chip/Kim and Mirna/Schmirna -- also make the cut as well. We've never seen racing as smart as we have in the latter, or oxen which were as broken.

No surprise to regular readers of this site that America's Next Top Model: Cycle 2 gets a mention here. It had the talent (Yoanna/Shandi/Mercedes/April/Xiomara/TinyJenascia) and the drama (Shandi), and it was back when Janice Dickinson was still on the show as, as I noted back then, "America's favorite she's-a-man-baby-uberbitch [with] a heart of gold as Mercedes' biggest champion."

As I told Alan, I put American Idol 7 (David, David, Clifford the Crunchy Muppet, Michael Johns and Carly Smithson) atop any list of best Idol seasons. The level of talent was great, and the underlying narrative of scrappy, sincere Cook versus The Young David Archuleta Machine was satisfying to watch. Also, that Jason Castro meltdown is one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. (Last season is a close runner-up; the talent level seems to keep rising on the show even when you'd think they'd have somewhat drained the swamp by now.)

Two slots remain. I originally put Top Chef Masters here to recognize its sustained, drama-free excellence, but in the end I can't leave out Project Runway 2, from back when everyone was watching the show that pioneered that "let's give professionals a shot at being awesome in their craft" subgenre. Santino, Nick, Andrae and the rest of that deep cast delivered both on the fashion and drama, and even if the show displayed entirely too much tootie at times, it was a joy to watch. Also: Tim Gunn, the mentor we all wish we had in our careers.

The final spot -- and this is pure entertainment value -- has to go to Joe Millionaire. This was the series that made clear just how much of a role editors played in the process, turning something which the competitors thought was a Bachelor-type show into one of the best comedies on television. Mmm, (slurp) (slurp) (gulp) indeed.

Other Runners-Up (not in any order): Nashville Star (season one); MTV's Sorority Life (season one); The Apprentice (season one); Rock Star: Supernova; Bachelorettes in Alaska; WWF Tough Enough (season one); The Contender (season one); Grease: You're The One That I Want.

Ruled out on eligibility grounds, but nonetheless compelling: Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Baltimore Ravens was marketed as reality tv, but really was a documentary that filmed an aspect of life which itself functions like reality tv. But nonetheless great. Similarly on Project Greenlight, which certainly had reality/elimination elements at the start but was much more of a documentary. Real World: Hawaii, the last great season, was in 1999. Finally, both Joe Schmo seasons ruled, but they're more improv comedy with reality elements than pure reality.

That's it. That's the list.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

HE CHARMED EVERYONE HERE EXCEPT TAMARA EASTER, WHO LATER REVEALED TO HIM HER INNERMOST SECRETS: PopWatch's Wendy Mitchell wants to know: Can Ben Folds get his own TV show, please?

And let's shoot for something beyond Idol mentor. Why not host a variety/talk show? (Additional question: is he ever gonna dance again?)
IT'S THEIR PREROGATIVE: Good news for Idol fans -- for 2010, they're ditching the three-groups-of-twelve (plus wildcard) semifinals and returning to the 24-to-20-to-16-to-12 structure. As I wrote back in February, this format values consistency over one-trick ponies, and may help prevent the Scott MacIntyres of the world from advancing into the finals going forward.
TECH SUPPORT: So Haloscan is cutting us off from its Comments functioning before year's end; we can shift to their Echo system or export our existing comments and use something else. Any advice? Obviously, what we'd prefer is something which makes the change as invisible as possible -- keeping all the existing comments and a pop-up window system, if at all feasible.

FYI: at present, we have 115,708 comments stored on Haloscan capable of being exported.
LUFTBALLOON: My mother-in-law gave the Little Earthling a copy of "The Red Balloon," a movie I had not watched since I ran the 16mm film projector in 5th grade. Could someone please defend this movie? I realize it is meant for children, but I simply do not understand its supposed artistic or entertainment value. I do not mean that I was not entertained or simply want to poo-poo its apparent artistry -- it was an amazingly boring 36 minutes -- I mean I do not understand how this movie is intended to entertain or be a work of art when it is barely more engaging than John Cage's 4' 33".
DAVID SOUTER=BRIAN WILSON? Two interesting things for discussion in this WSJ Law Blog item on Justice Sotomayor:
  • As part of an extended music metaphor, the writer notes--"[I]f Alex Kozinski and Richard Posner are, say, Stephen Malkmus and Wayne Coyne, brilliant and legendary to those who follow those worlds, Supreme Court Justices are all Madonnas and Bonos and Ringos and Eltons." Please provide suitable music analogs for your favorite (or least favorite) judges and justify your answer.
  • There's a discussion of her dating life (or more precisely, her lack thereof)--I would totally watch Justice Sotomayor attempt to find love, ideally with the rest of SCOTUS as her confidants and advisors. Please write your proposed "challenges" and titles for such a show.

Monday, December 21, 2009

NO QUESTION SHE CAN HIT THE HIGH C: Sadly, NPH can't host every awards show, but Kristin Chenoweth hosting the Critics' Choice Awards for film? Yeah, that'll work, though is a somewhat odd choice, given that her film work to date has been (to put it charitably) less than distinguished. Though if her hosting is half as funny as the promo linked above, it'll be excellent.
HELLO? ELTON! OF COURSE.... OF, OF COURSE. SEND AN EMBARRASSINGLY BIG CAR AND I'LL BE THERE: Congratulations to Rage Against The Machine and the people-powered movement which propelled "Killing in the Name" ahead of the treacly X-Factor winner to become 2009's UK Christmas Number One Single, having been downloaded 502,000 times to the runner-up's 450,000. Most of the band's proceeds from the single will go to Shelter, a leading UK anti-homelessness charity, and the band has promised to do a free concert in the British Isles as well.

Said the Clay Aiken wannabe who won X-Factor, "I wouldn't buy it. It's a nought out of ten from me. Simon Cowell wouldn't like it. They wouldn't get through to boot camp on The X Factor - they're just shouting."
TRITONE SUBSTITUTION: [posted at 10:30] One could look at the Sing-Off finale much in the same way as an Idol elimination show -- an impossible amount of padding before providing a sentence's worth of information. But what padding! A lovely medley from Boyz III Men, spirited performances from all the groups and judges (but, Ben, why the piano?) and Bobby McFerrin, and an outfit for the ages from Smokey Robinson, ridiculous in every aspect.

I don't know that the promised recording contract will lead to lasting fame for the winners, but if all they got from this was a better choice of bookings in the future, well, that ain't bad. Nice short series.
AUNT OLIVIA, 1946-2009: Celebrity death enthusiasts are still hip-deep in twitter (and Twitter) about Brittany Murphy today, but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the passing, from cancer, of Alaina Reed Hall. Hall was Sesame Street's Olivia Gordon Robinson, and while I was never entirely clear on the familial relationships on the Street, having been mostly four years old when I was watching, Wikipedia tells me she was Robin's Son Gordon's sister. Spacewoman almost certainly remembers her more clearly (if not fondly) from her role as Rose on 227.

Anyone who spent 12 years on Sesame Street likely need not worry about entering TV heaven, but even without that credit on her IMDB page, she would deserve passage through the pearly gates for having played tiny roles on two of our seminal modern entertainments (Herman's Head and Cruel Intentions) and a larger role in another (Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, for which she voiced the animated characters).
YOU CAN PLAY HUNGRY HUNGRY HIPPOS WHILE WAITING: For those of us on the East Coast still digging out from the snow, don't forget to call Mr. Plow (that's my name!). That name again is Mr. Plow.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

AND THE TITLE OF SOLE SURVIVOR: Congratulations to commenter Lou W. for winning our suicide pool in the NFL's fifteenth week tonight, opting for the Texans while the others in the final three had bet on the Broncos.

As for the other Survivor, I followed this season via recaps more than by actually watching the shows (though I certainly watched tonight) -- it's a shame critics can't preview full- or half-seasons in advance to let us know when the good ones are coming. From all accounts, Russell made this one of the truly good ones. Up next for Season XX: more All-Stars, debuting 2-11-10.

added: Miss Alli! "[T]here is no such thing as a "best player" other than the player who gets people to vote for him or her. It is an intrinsic part of Survivor to play to a jury in a way that gets them to vote for you. It's the hardest, most mysterious part of the game. Winning challenges is easy; understanding what somebody will do with his or her vote is hard.... Like it or not, for all players, this game ends with a final challenge called Get The Most Votes. If you stink at that challenge, you deserve not to win.

"Third of all: If you're a juror, you don't have to put aside anything! You have the ultimate power of your own reckless, irrational whimsy! That is the absolute essence of the game. The essence of being a juror on Survivor is that you can do whatever you want. The fact that some jurors vote out of a twisted sense of "respect," some vote out of resentment, some vote out of loyalty, and some vote because they think one person needs the money more? That's the game. Those are the rules, and everybody knows them, and everybody has the same opportunity to take them into account and play accordingly."

YES, I AM AWARE I'M NOT AT ALL IN ITS INTENDED DEMO: Two things worth noting in the Sunday Styles section of the Times today:
NO OBVIOUS JOKE HERE, AND NOT REALLY FUNNY: Brittany Murphy, dead at 32.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

WELL, IT'S NOT LIKELY TO BE THE NORM COLEMAN DECADE: TV Tattle wonders whether tonight -- for fourth straight last-show-of-the-decade -- the now-junior Senator from the great state of Minnesota will appear on Saturday Night Live to declare the next ten years The Al (or Joe) Franken Decade.

HTMLGIANT / Grammar Challenge!

LET THEM ENTERTAIN YOU: Though EW doesn't give it the cover this year, the Entertainers of the Year are ranked, unlike the Entertainers of the Decade, which just offered 15 names in no particular order. Possibly because of the lack of a cover package, we were spared anything Twilight related, but your top fifteen are:
  1. Sandra Bullock
  2. True Blood
  3. Lady Gaga
  4. Alec Baldwin
  5. Taylor Swift
  6. Meryl Streep
  7. Ryan Reynolds
  8. Adam Lambert
  9. Adult cast of Modern Family
  10. James Cameron
  11. The Black-Eyed Peas
  12. Jane Lynch
  13. Mo'Nique
  14. Woody Harrelson
  15. Dexter
Any surprise omissions there? Any surprise inclusions? (Seems premature to honor Cameron, IMHO, until we see how Avatar shakes out commercially.)
SNOWPOCALYPSE NOW: We've got an inch already outside the house, 8-12" to come. Open thread for East Coasters and those who like to amuse us during The Most Shocking Weather-Related Event Ever.

[I saw one news report noting that an El Niño effect might be playing into this. As a reminder, all other tropical storms must bow before El Niño, and for those of you who don't habla Español, El Niño is Spanish for.. The Niño!]

Friday, December 18, 2009

JERK STORE: Twelve years later, MLB finally sees the wisdom of George Costanza. Get your tickets now for Snow Tire Day.
I ♥ THE AUGHTIES: I will inevitably contribute to, and get overenthusiastic about, the "Best [something] of the Aughts" discussions we're likely to have here in the next few weeks. This isn't that post. I deservedly take some flak for being hypercritical, partly because I don't find it all that fun to write posts that say no more than "gosh, I liked this." In fact, though, I think that within the four corners of the ALOTT5MA Mission Statement, it's been a pretty great ten years. I wanted to write not about the things I thought were the best, or things that fit neatly into a category that can be ranked by favorites, but just some things that I loved about the decade. These are their stories:
  1. TV eclipsing movies as the most rewarding filmed medium. For Hollywood people, movies have a cachet that TV can't match. I still read stories about Alec Baldwin or Glenn Close or Holly Hunter reaching the point in their careers where they have to settle for the small screen. But you can do so much on TV that you can't do in a movie. You can tell more intricate, nuanced stories. You can build characters slowly. You can jettison things that don't work. Wonderful shows like The Wire and Mad Men, with so much slow build or seeming inactivity, couldn't be done in two hours. In the Aughts, TV exploded creatively. You may not think that The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, Friday Night Lights, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica are the best TV dramas of all time, but you wouldn't think a person who took that position is crazy. And on the comedy side, there were shows that melded The Simpsons' gag rate with Seinfeld's "no-hugging-no-learning" mantra (Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Better Off Ted), as well as more traditional comedies (The Office, for example) that eschewed the three-beat formula for more nuanced, even loving, writing. Part of the reason why I don't miss movies is that there's just so much great TV that I don't need them any more.
  2. The iPod and iTunes. I know I just criticized iTunes this week, but that's a blip. I don't know if I agree with Spacewoman that the iPod has changed the way we listen to music, but it's true that I now listen to orders of magnitude more music than I did before I had one. iTunes, though -- the tail that now wags iPod's dog -- was revolutionary. The biggest cost of finding new music used to be the search cost. I remember plunking down $12.99 for Exile in Guyville without having heard a single track, virtually praying that it would be good. With iTunes, you can browse endlessly, trying on 30-second samples, and generally getting comfortable before spending the first $0.99 (or $1.29). You're not stuck with the Kiss-album dilemma (is it worth the cost of a full album for two good songs?), which may actually be forcing artists to be more consistently good. You can see what others bought or what Genius thinks you might like (Genius doesn't insult me like Pandora does). Or, like I did with states and months, you can just do a random word search and find completely unheard-of music. I owe iTunes for completely resurrecting my love of indie pop, of which there is an endless supply.
  3. Digital photos and videos. Digital photography was still in the "huh, that's kind of cool" stage when the Aughts began, and there was no consumer digital video. Remember when you were afraid of developing bad pictures? When you couldn't post a video of yourself falling off a roof on YouTube? The world is so much better now.
  4. The HBO Death March. Adriana, Christopher, Big Pussy, Richie Aprile, Bobby Bacala, Ralphie Cifareto, Wild Bill, William Bullock, Francis Wolcott, Mr. Ellsworth, Wallace, Stringer, Omar, Bodie, Snoop … uh, spoiler alert.
  5. The Body, the Blood, the Machine, the Thermals. Unlike the other things on this list, this is pretty specific. But it is definitely my favorite album of the decade. Sparse, messy, aggressive post-apocalyptic post-punk with great hooks and a sci-fi theme that I cannot sever from how I remember Battlestar Galactica. It's not perfect, but it's perfectly imperfect. I probably will be the only person on the entire Internets who ranks this #1, though.
  6. DVR. As Spacewoman says, the decade started with her chiding me for spending money on a gadget we didn't need and ended up with her wondering whether four tuners is enough. Some months after we got TiVo, I started noticing situations -- on the telephone, listening to the radio -- where I had to consciously remind myself that I couldn't just rewind to catch something I missed. Last month, Spaceboy 1.0, overtired and cranky, burst into tears, crying because "we can't pause time -- it just continues!" I wrote a heartfelt breakup letter to TiVo on this blog. DVR made it possible to watch only good TV (or at least only enjoyable TV) and made us all more efficient consumers of it.
  7. The ending of The Sopranos. A perfect meta commentary at the end of a season that stole moments of meta commentary. I continue to maintain that anybody who argues that Tony did or didn't die, or that the ending was unsatisfying or anything short of perfect, has missed the point. And because there was so much focus on the last moment, sometimes we forget how ridiculously, sublimely, expertly tense the preceding moments were. Truly virtuoso filmmaking.
  8. Moneyball and the rise of populist baseball statistical analysis. Aside from Medicare, I don't think there is anything for which the gap between my knowledge at the beginning of the decade and my knowledge at the end is greater than baseball. Moneyball, the book, didn't invent the objective analysis of baseball (really, all it did was identify a notion that independently was taking hold among baseball executives), but it brought it to an exponentially larger group of people, many of whom were extremely smart and willing to dedicate long hours to advancing a new understanding of an old-fashioned sport. The ideas underlying Moneyball the book are now so pervasive that the use of "Moneyball" to describe a way of thinking is obsolete. Only a few dinosaurs in baseball reject what Moneyball described, and that, more than "small-market," explains why the Kansas City Royals are (and the Seattle Mariners were) terrible.
  9. The Decemberists. Every decade, more or less, has a defining band or two that is popular enough that most everybody heard of them but just shy of the kind of popularity that would qualify them as superstars. In the 1980s it was the Clash and maybe U2. In the 1990s it was Wilco. In the Aughts, it was the Decemberists. By turns obtuse and magnificent, playful and dour, I can't think of a better band to carry the standard for music in the Aughts (without being at all representative, of course).
  10. The 2001 Seattle Mariners and the 2008-09 Mariners GM, Jack Zduriencik. The 2001 Mariners won 116 games after losing, in the three prior years, a Hall-of-Fame center fielder, pitcher, and shortstop in each's prime. They did not lose a three- or four-game series until late September, I believe. They had a RF who beat balls into the ground and ran to first before the end of the first hop, a 1.000+ OPS DH with a degenerative eye disease, a CF who was as fast, as quick off the bat, and as canny with routes as any in the game, a roided-up 2B who flipped his bat, a hundred-year-old junkballer, a hotheaded Venezuelan who bragged about his dancing, and a manager known for throwing bases into the outfield. It was too bad when they cancelled the playoffs that year. As for 2009, the Mariners have a manager that turned three middling prospects and most unproductive contract in Mariners history into Cliff Lee and Milton Bradley. There is no GM in sports as beloved right now as Zduriencik is in Seattle.

BOW WOW WOW YIPPEE YO YIPPEE YAY: Snoop Dogg's lawyers gonna blow you away (in a trademark fight before the USPTO, that is).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

FEED ME ALL NIGHT LONG: I do want to commend the local production of Little Shop of Horrors that we greatly enjoyed tonight -- among other merits, it maintained the integrity of the original ending, and the small, talented troupe was of uniformly high quality. Except for this one problem: Audrey II was voiced by a woman. Yes, the plant was a giant, singing vagina begging to be fed ... and it felt weird. Nightmarish, really, to have something that looked and sounded like that to be demanding its flesh, and it definitely changed the dynamics of the Audrey II/Audrey confrontation late in Act II ("Sominex/Suppertime II").

It's rare that I feel this confounded by a cultural work. Or maybe I've got issues. [Da-DOO.] The production remains at the Prince Theater through Sunday.
CAN YOU CALL IT TREASURE IF YOU PAID FOR IT? Once upon a time, the United States sank a bunch of concrete in the San Francisco Bay adjacent to Yerba Buena Island and built a naval base. Yesterday, the U.S. sold the island to San Francisco (for $105 million and a share of the development proceeds).

The island, while itself utilitarian and unsightly, sports stunning views of San Francisco, the Bay (and its island outcroppings), Berkeley, and Oakland. On the minus side of the ledger, it is reachable only by boat and a bridge subject to severe traffic delays, intermittent closures, poor public transportation, and likely future tolls.

To what development use should San Francisco put the island? Sift through the endless possibilities and suggest something.
GUILDS OTHER THAN THOSE IN WORLD OF WARCRAFT: The SAG nominations on the movie side aren't all that interesting, basically giving us the same group of usual suspects, with a few mild surprises (An Education gets the fifth "ensemble" slot, rather than Up In The Air, even though all three UITA primary performers are nominated, Diane Kruger sneaks into the supporting actress race for Basterds, and love for The Last Station). Also of interest is that the acting branch gave no love to Avatar.

On the TV side, it's a little wilder--while Glee and Modern Family both get ensemble nods for comedy, no individual performers are nominated (likely in part because there's no supporting acting category at the SAGs and because the performers aren't big names), True Blood pulls off the same feat in drama, and Jim Parsons is snubbed again for Big Bang.
DON'T THEY HAVE TO ESTABLISH A FOOTBALL PROGRAM FIRST? If the Big Ten is going to add a twelfth team, Will Leitch thinks it should be Syracuse University, and not Pitt, Nebraska, Missouri or others under consideration.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THE QUIET WARRIOR: You may have seen by now the Associated Press vote naming Tiger Woods the Athlete of the Decade, followed by Lance Armstrong, Roger Federer and Michael Phelps, and it's hard to argue with those four being named in that order.

Note, however, that they're all athletes in individual sports. (Okay, cycling has team elements, but it's not the same.) If the question is narrowed to Best Team Sports Athlete of the Aughts, the AP poll is unrevealing -- Tom Brady was the only such athlete to receive multiple votes at all, with Peyton Manning, Shaquille O'Neal and Albert Pujols each mentioned once. Yet if we're really going to answer the question, isn't there a name glaringly missing from the conversation? I am speaking of Tim Duncan -- during this decade a two-time MVP, ten-time All Star and three-time NBA champion, an fierce competitor of consummate grace, someone who clearly understands The Secret. (And, I might add, drama-free.)

Whether the ultimate answer is Duncan or Brady, I'm not sure, but I think it's where the debate ultimately ends up. (For purposes of this particular honor, I'll take Brady's three rings over Manning's one, and leave Pujols v. ARod unsettled.) Your mileage, no doubt, may vary.
WHAT'S ALL THE HUBBUB, BUBS? Okay, so because Modern Family aired tonight our So You Think You Can Sing Without Instruments season pass didn't kick in automatically, and as such I missed the first forty-five minutes of the show. Y'all can fill me in.
I HAVE AN M.D. FROM HARVARD. I AM BOARD CERTIFIED IN CARDIOTHORACIC MEDICINE AND TRAUMA SURGERY. I HAVE BEEN AWARDED CITATIONS FROM SEVEN DIFFERENT MEDICAL BOARDS IN NEW ENGLAND; AND I AM NEVER, EVER SICK AT SEA: Alec Baldwin has donated $1M to endow a scholarship fund for drama students at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, focusing on those who demonstrate “work ethic, development of leadership skills, willingness to collaborate, the ability to tolerate risk, and the capacity to work with constructive criticism."
DO OR DO NOT DECORATE THE TREE--THERE IS NO TRY:In case you love Christmas and Star Wars an equal amount--the Yoda holiday tree topper, perfect for the tree strung with R2-D2 lights, under which, of course, sits your tauntaun sleeping bag.

ETA: The presents are, of course, delivered by Santa Yoda, who, if you've been a good boy, might bring you your own Six or Inara for the holidays.
TURN ME ON, DEAD MEN*: Is it just me, or is the iTunes Store interface in iTunes 9.x basically designed to prevent, or at least discourage, me from finding or buying anything unless I know exactly what I want?

*See, it's a pun on both "Apple" and the number 9.
BIPARTISAN AGREEMENT: How should Phillies fans view the Roy Halladay trade? Ordinarily I'd never skate this close to the No Politics Rule, but on May 13, 2008, former Texas Rangers co-owner and then-President George W. Bush did speak with
Q: Mr. President, you're a Major League Baseball team owner again. Everyone is a free agent. You have a Yankees-like wallet. Who is your first position player? Who's your pitcher?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. I like Utley from the Philadelphia Phillies. He's a middle infielder, which is always -- you know, they say you have strength up the middle -- there's nothing better than having a good person up the middle that can hit. And Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays is a great pitcher. He's a steady guy, he burns up innings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I SAID, "NO, NO, NO": A sure-to-be controversial decision tonight on So You Think You Can Sing Without Instruments, but not really when you think about it. Nothing happened tonight to change my opinion of the singing groups or of the show generally. Just one question: who's dressing the teams, and was there a sale on douchey scarves somewhere that I didn't know about?
AND I AM TELLING YOU I'M NOT GOING: I'm just not here very much at the moment. Not to get all personal-interest-bloggy, but you could write an HBS case study on me right now entitled "Why It's Insane to Think That One Can Hold a Full-Time Job, Volunteer to Run Things at Both of One's Kids' Schools, and Have Any Time Whatsoever Left Over to Consume Popular Culture, Much Less Blog About It." So, a big thanks to my co-bloggers for politely not alluding to my non-existence, and for the rest of you, some thoughts on stuff.
  • How is it possible that there is a SYTYCD performance finale on television right this very moment with six (6) dancers remaining? I haven't been watching much this season -- I haven't found it compelling enough to hold my attention -- but if the show was going to have one less week than usual, was the right answer really to do just as many audition shows as ever but to go from six to one over the course of one night? It's very strange. I hope they go back to summertime and nothing but summertime.
  • So if I'm not watching SYTYCD, then what am I watching? This has been a big season for chefs, both Top and The Next Iron. Iron Chef is my Law & Order -- I always keep a few stacked on the DVR for viewing emergencies. Never having watched the first Next Iron Chef (but thinking that Michael Symond is the bomb), I was curious to see how this would work. Talk about a show that is influenced by every nuance of Reality Television: obviously there's a big Top Chef thread running through TNIC. Then there's Alton Brown, who is more of an amped up Tim Gunn than anything else. And then we had the ANTM goes to a foreign country element, in which the chefs have to fend for themselves in strange surroundings. There's also a smidge of Survivor in the mix -- who's hoarding the scallops? Did Chef Mehta purposely leave the ice cream maker dirty so that Chef Mullen would have to waste valuable time cleaning the paddle while his arthritis was acting up? Could Chef Freitag have wrestled the whatever-protein-it-was away from Chef Appleman if she'd really put her weight into it? I enjoyed the show, and thought that they got the winner right, but really, didn't the finale at Kitchen Stadium seem terribly discordant as compared to the rest of the show's run?
  • As for Top Chef, I was disappointed. The outcome wasn't wrong, given the final meals cooked by the final three, but it was a bummer to see Kevin whiff like that.
  • Leaving the chefs and turning to the families. Every once in a while there's a fall TV season that totally changes my TV viewing habits. (See, e.g., 2004.) Other years, it's like there are no new shows at all, as far as I'm concerned. Modern Family and Glee have replaced pretty much everything else on my schedule this fall. Modern Family has fixed what I saw as its one big problem early on -- the complete implausibility of anyone actually being married to Phil -- by making Claire just as goofy in her own way. And now it is pretty darned close to perfect. And as for Glee, well, I am basically Row A, Seat 110 in Glee's target audience, so not much to discuss there.
  • Oh wait, there is something to discuss there. I didn't much like "Don't Rain on My Parade." Not only do I not care for the song, but I spent the whole time sitting there wondering how a show choir doesn't get DQ'ed for having one person alone on stage for pretty much an entire song. Not that I have the foggiest idea whether show choirs actually exist or what their rulebook contains.
  • The "Best Animated Feature Film" category in this year's Golden Globes is as abundantly rich as I can recall a category ever being. The fact that I have seen three of the nominated films is weird in and of itself, given how infrequently I go to the movies, but all three of them were wonderful in completely different ways. (I have not seen Up yet, although Cosmo Girl just got the DVD for Chanukah, so I expect to have that box checked in the next week or so, and I am unlikely to see Coraline at all unless it somehow bizarrely beats out the other four.) Fantastic Mr. Fox is an awesome George Clooney heist flick that happens to be about an animated fox; Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs was a lot of fun, and The Princess and the Frog was a 100% worthy addition to the princess pantheon. Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably the frontrunner in my mind, if only because it works equally well for grownups and children. Kind of à la Shrek, although it's a totally different movie.
  • But more on The Princess and the Frog. Cosmo Girl and I saw it at a special Disney Experience preview thingamawhatsit at the legendary Ziegfeld Theatre. In a theater that tends to draw quite a Caucasian crowd, the number of African-American mothers and daughters all decked out in their Tiana paraphernalia -- days before the movie had gone into wide release -- was striking and extremely sweet. I have been dubious about the racial angle of this film ever since I heard they were making it. I am no longer dubious: The Princess and the Frog is racially aware without dumbing it down too much and without excessively beating us over the head about it. And while I can't say that any individual song was terribly memorable, I had fun hearing all the different New Orleans styles reflected in the music. This was the first princess movie in eleven years (if you count Mulan --which I don't) and the first one I've seen in a movie theater since the advent of Cosmo Girl. Movies like Brother Bear didn't suck because traditional animation is dead -- they suck because they suck. The Princess and the Frog is decidedly unsucky.

That's it. Now I return to my cave.

Analysis: Did the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame get it right this year? -

IT'S ALWAYS THE SAME; IT'S JUST A SHAME, THAT'S ALL: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees for 2010 will be Abba, Genesis, the Hollies, the Stooges and Jimmy Cliff; among those missing the cut were Kiss, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donna Summer and LL Cool J. Yes, we've got some belated Keltners coming, and wow did the Chilly Willies get screwed.
WHAT IS HASHEM TRYING TO TELL ME, MAKING ME PAY FOR SY ABLEMAN'S FUNERAL? Golden Globe nominations out today -- good for the Gleeks, for Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep, and, yeah, the prospect of exes James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow going up against each other in Best Director does make for a nice little story.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'D LOVE TO MIX IN CIRCLES, CLIQUES AND SOCIAL COTERIES (THAT'S ME!): Sing ON, ALOTT5MA, and even if you might have ended up looking like Courtney Love if you took a drink every time Nick Lachey reminded us that There Are No Instruments Here, that was some innocent, fun tv. What impressed me most about the show is that they let the judges judge, and Ben Folds had some pretty insightful commentary while still making sure not to let the more devout teams know that his most popular song was a narrative sung in the first person about taking his girlfriend to obtain an abortion. (HT: Wife.)

In terms of fan favorites, I'm going to represent for my NESCAC brethren, who delivered a quintessential self-consciously wacky performance evoking just what I think about when I think about college a capella. They're #1, and BYU Fauxhawk Lady is number two. Back tomorrow with more (y'all already started), and if you're all nice enough by the end of this I'll dig up the YouTube of my a capella debut from 1994.
KIDNEY NOW! The actor who plays Grizz on 30 Rock apparently needs a kidney transplant. Now, everybody sing along.
THERE IS STILL AT LEAST ONE MAN IN HOLLYWOOD WHO KNOWS HOW TO SPEND $250 MILLION, OR WAS IT $300 MILLION, WISELY: Ebert [heart] Avatar: "Avatar is not simply a sensational entertainment, although it is that. It's a technical breakthrough. It has a flat-out Green and anti-war message. It is predestined to launch a cult. It contains such visual detailing that it would reward repeating viewings. It invents a new language, Na'vi, as Lord of the Rings did, although mercifully I doubt this one can be spoken by humans, even teenage humans. It creates new movie stars. It is an Event, one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation.... It takes a hell of a lot of nerve for a man to stand up at the Oscarcast and proclaim himself King of the World. James Cameron just got re-elected."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

WON'T YOU COME ON OVER, STOP MAKIN' A FOOL OUT OF ME: Since I complained about a remake once today, let's take a look at a remake that I think improves on the original. The Zutons' original version of "Valerie" is a slowish song that wouldn't be entirely out place on a Dashboard Confessional album. Hand it to producer Mark Ronson, let him speed it up, emphasize the drums and strings while toning to down the guitar, and let Amy Winehouse sing it--that works.
YOU CAN BLOW IT OFF AND SAY "THERE'S GOOD IN NEARLY EVERYONE -- JUST GIVE THEM ALL A CHANCE." NOW, LET'S GIVE THEM ALL A CHANCE: In case there was any ambiguity about where this blog's sweet spot lay, A Capella Singing Competition + Ben Folds And A Boy II Man Judging + NESCAC Entrants is there. See you tomorrow night, and let's hope NBC's involvement in a reality show doesn't mean it sucks.

added: Via RealityBlurred, here's your all hands on deck opening number to whet the appetite.
CREATIVITY IS DEAD: You know that funny (but little-seen) movie Death At A Funeral, featuring a particularly spectacular performance from Alan Tudyk as a straight-laced guy who accidentally ingests a powerful hallucinogen? It tanked pretty badly in general release, so what's the solution? A remake, but this time, instead of Brits, it's African-Americans. Seriously, aside from a few added "urban" jokes, almost every joke and incident in the trailer is literally word for word and shot for shot from the original, even with Peter Dinklage playing the exact same role he did in the original. To be fair, it looks like they've assembled a fine cast (Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, and, in Tudyk's role, James Marsden), and somehow gotten Neil LaBute to direct, but really? We needed this?
AYN RAND'S A SELFISH CHRISTMAS: John Scalzi's always awesome "Top Ten Least Successful Holiday Specials."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

WHAT WOULD JOAN DO? On the off chance we needed more evidence that Christina Hendricks is awesome, let's look at pictures from her Holiday party.

Friday, December 11, 2009

SO IF YOU BELIEVE IN FATHER CHRISTMAS, CHILDREN, LIKE YOUR UNCLE BILLY DOES, THEN BUY THIS FESTERING TURD OF A RECORD: Wagering is now active for this year's UK Christmas #1 Single, with the odds so stacked in favor of Whoever Wins X-Factor This Week that you can also bet on the number two. What's that -- Rage Against The Machine is in the running? Yes, you can do what they told you. Or it could be Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody. Or Robbie Williams, George Michael and Michael Buble, who will all be appearing in the X-Finale.

[Last year's coverage collected here.]
HAPPY HANUKKAH: With tonight marking the beginning of the festival of lights, 11 Points has a list of the 11 Most Badass Jews in History, and no, the imagined offspring of Lenny Kravitz and Courtney Love does not make the cut.

MAN, I CAN'T FIND NOTHING ON THE RADIO: Rolling Stone has its own solid decade in review issue out now, but something of interest is they provide the list of the top 10 songs with the most "spins" on radio during the decade--I'm assuming it's not just pop/Top 40 formats, based on some of the selections, but I still shiver a bit. Here's the list:
  1. "How You Remind Me"--Nickelback
  2. "Drops of Jupiter"--Train
  3. "Hanging By A Moment"--Lifehouse
  4. "Breathe"--Faith Hill
  5. "Kryptonite"--Three Doors Down
  6. "The Way You Love Me"--Faith Hill
  7. "I Hope You Dance"--Lee Ann Womack
  8. "Wherever You Will Go"--The Calling
  9. "Smooth"--Santana f/ Rob Thomas
  10. "The Reason"--Hoobastank
Interestingly as well, for all the noise of singles driving album sales in the pre-iTunes era of the early 00s, none of the top 13 selling albums of the decade (a list topped by The Beatles, 1, followed by NSYNC, Norah Jones, and two Eminem albums) contain any of those singles, though Nickelback's All The Right Reasons and Santana's Supernatural are at 14 and 15.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

YUKON CORNELIUS: What this season of Top Chef proved, much to my chagrin, is that there does come a point at which consistent excellence and competence only goes so far, and wacky interpersonal nonsense is needed for flavoring. Or maybe it's just that the Brothers Voltaggio were never quite interesting enough, or that once you've seen the Masters this will feel like amateur hour.

So, overall: loved that the eliminations made sense, loved the panel of death episode, thrilled that my Somerton homegirl Jennifer Carroll did so well, hate Toby Young, and just don't know how to feel about all the predictability. (Also, were any of these chefs as good as Hung or Stefan?)
FEEDBACK LOOP: A thought about Glee that's a little too long for comments--the show developed in a way unusual for network TV. The 13 episodes we just finished seeing were substantially complete and in the can by the time the second episode aired. Courtesy of the Internet, it's easier than ever for show writers to communicate with the audience outside of the show (through Twitter, blogs, and the like) and to get feedback directly from the audience. Now, at least one creator has claimed she doesn't make changes based on audience feedback, and we know of at least one incident where involvement with online fans directly got incorporated into the show. HBO also traditionally follows this model, producing a full season of episodes before airing even one.

But the question I want to ask is whether Glee is better or worse off without the feedback the audience would have provided on those first 13 episodes (though we have to assume that the network provided notes). Sure, we might have had some improvements--a quicker end to the fake pregnancy story arc, more singing and more Sue--but we might also have seen more pressure to amp up various relationships on the show, in particular the Rachel/Puck and Puck/Quinn shippers, who are quite loud.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I AM SPARTACUS? Honestly, I was more than a bit underwhelmed by tonight's Modern Family--we largely left the three family units separate rather than having them bounce off one another in different combinations, and I found the O'Neill/Vergara plotline ineffective--but there was still an awful lot of funny there (particularly in the Mitchell/Cameron plotline), and I'm hoping and expecting Fred Willard will recur as Phil's dad, which is just perfect casting
I SAW HER TODAY AT THE RECEPTION: Well, if you don't know at the end of your first 13 episode order if you're getting picked up for the back nine, you might as well throw in the kitchen sink in Glee #13 -- the evening's second reference to Miss Effie White, twists and turns and revenges and revelations, new songs, delayed reactions and a whole lot of rescrambling.

Did it all work? No. Here's a hint for folks involved in television's creative process: when you know what you've got is good, you don't need to give the viewers reaction shots confirming it. We don't need to see Mr. Schue crying while listening to the kids, or audience members dancing in the aisles. Trust us to get it.

But I will say this much: Lea Michele's "Don't Rain On My Parade" was show-stoppingly, astonishingly good, even for a performer who has set our expectations so high all season. As manipulative as this episode was (yes, all television manipulates emotion -- that's the point -- but this was excessive), you can't fake moments like that. Glee is ambitious, messy, imperfect and sad at its core, and its April return cannot come soon enough.
TERRIFIC TET!: I'm sure I have plugged these guys before, but if you need stocking stuffers or other small gifts this month, American Science and Surplus is pretty darn awesome. Frenel Lenses, Geiger Counters, magnifying bug boxes. Everything you've ever seen at a science museum gift store, they've got. I once blew a decent chunk of an afternoon at the Chicago store with commentor sconstant.
SOMEHOW, LOU REED DIDN'T OPT FOR THAT TITLE: It's a truth pretty much universally acknowledged that "Are You Hot?," the Lorenzo Lamas-hosted "Search For America's Sexiest People," was the nadir of reality television. Now, we may have found a new low--ladies and gentlemen, get ready to ride on the Conveyor Belt of Love.
STILL BETTER, PROBABLY SOON OFF: I have a feeling that all the people in the world that are ever going to watch Better Off Ted are already watching it. I get that it can be too sharp and/or glib for some people and that its corporate-conglomerate setting is not relatable for some portion of the potential viewership. It's not a show like Chuck, which is so broadly charming that I simply do not understand why it is not hugely popular. Still, after last night's poorly performing episode of Ted, which I thought was damn funny, I wonder how it can lose that many viewers from its Scrubs lead-in. Are there really millions of people who watch Scrubs solely for its sentimentality, such that the compatible humor in Better Off Ted is no draw?
SHE'S NO WAYNE NEWTON: The Wynn, trying to keep things relatively young and hip, is attempting to get Beyonce to sign a deal to be a marquee performer (alternating with Garth Brooks). Two questions--is this the right career move for Sasha Fierce at this point, and who do you think should be looking at Vegas residency for their own career?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

SHE'S THE ONE FOR ME; SHE'S ALL I REALLY NEED: This blog does not ordinarily traffic in gossip; our Remarkably Promiscuous Golfers Desk has remained unfilled for years, and we plan to keep it that way. But can we ignore the reports that Billy Corgan and Jessica Simpson may be dating? No, we cannot. This, indeed, is more shocking than that other story ... until we hit double digits. (Perkins? Really?)
NOW ADD SOME GOLD AND SILVER FOR SOME PIZZA PLACE CLASS: There are a lot of reasons why I should be a long-time fan of They Might Be Giants. My ear bends toward do-it-yourself indie pop, I entered college in the 1980s, I am easily amused by songs that take arcana seriously and occasionally entertained by novelty songs, and my college girlfriend went to Lincoln-Sudbury High School just a few years after the Johns. I'm not a long-time fan of They Might Be Giants, though, because I dock points for using drum machines and not using bassists (as TMBG did and didn't when I first encountered them), because there is an exponential relationship between time (x) and the annoyingness of Linnell's voice (y), and because it's frustrating how the band veers between beautifully and meticulously constructed pieces and other songs that feel like offhand improvisations.

They solve little of this in their children's music work. In fact, to paraphrase Spacewoman's comment on No!, their kids' work sounds exactly like their grownup work except with the same music and lyrics. Yet, because the kids' music genre is more forgiving (or maybe just makes me feel more forgiving), I find the kids' albums more enjoyable. Songs like "Seven Days of the Week," "I Am Not Your Broom" and "Violin" still send me racing for the skip button, but I know there's a payoff at the other end.

Here Comes Science is, I think, the band's fourth kids' album (after No!, Here Come the ABCs, and Here Come the 123s), and it's the best. For one thing, the science theme is specific enough to give the collection some coherence without being so narrow as to require too much lyrical absurdity as a way of filling out the album. For another, the disc hits the sweet spot where the songs are interesting (usually clever, often outright funny), instructive, hummable, and well-performed by a band that includes both a live drummer and a bass player. It's an educational collection that does not condescend to its audience -- neither music nor lyrics are dumbed down. I think the kids appreciate that, and lord knows, so do I.

The other great thing about the album is that it's a little bit ballsy. Dan Zanes, as one example, sometimes takes tentative political stances in his albums ("Down By the Riverside"; "I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister"), but they're watered down in Kum-Ba-Yah folksiness or winking anachronism. It may not be particularly controversial to say, as TMBG do, "Science Is Real," but in case you missed the point, TMBG doesn't try to avoid the sore spot: "Now I like those stories about angels, unicorns, and elves/I like those stories as much as anyone else/But when I'm seeking knowledge, either simple or abstract/The facts are with science." In other words, please feel free to burn this children's disc. Funny.

Monday, December 7, 2009

THAT WAS A VERY LOUD BEEP ... I DON'T EVEN KNOW IF THIS IS WORKING, MARK. MARK, ARE YOU THERE? ARE YOU SCREENING YOUR CALLS? IT'S MOM: New York magazine catalogs seventeen once-everyday objects rendered obsolete by the end of the Aughts.

The 6 Weirdest, Scariest Processed Foods | Health and Wellness | AlterNet

LLOYD DOBLER HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS LIST: The 6 Weirdest, Scariest Processed Foods.
WHO IS NOW RUNNING THE HOLLYWOOD GENE PROJECT? With reference to the impending Carrie Underwood Christmas variety special, I defy anybody to make a cogent argument that there is any meaningful difference whatsoever between 2009 Carrie Underwood and 1980 Barbara Mandrell.
TRASH LIKE THAT TAKES ITSELF OUT: Continuing my practice of only writing about shows several days after they air, I have a couple of things to say about the Blake Lively SNL that aired two nights ago.

The quick thought: am I the only person in the entire world who thinks it was exceedingly strange that they cut directly from a skit whose punchline was Tiger Woods being the victim of domestic abuse to a close-up of Rihanna in the digital short? I guess the way the show is built, and with Rihanna carrying the digital short, that skit was going to come either immediately before or immediately after a Rihanna performance, but I might have tried to use something -- anything -- as a buffer. One of the fake UPS ads?

The somewhat more labored thought: the show is not particularly funny these days, but it's also not as unfunny as the Internets would have it, and a lot of the stuff that doesn't work is a result of the pressure for SNL to be funny in the exact same way that it was funny before. I read a lot of stuff suggesting that the show was only funny in one or more of the the Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time-Players/Eddie Murphy/Bill Hartman-Dana Carvey/Will Ferrell eras, with the current cast paling in comparison. One of the reasons the current cast pales in comparison, though, is that it's trying to do what past casts were good at. Fey's first Palin sketch aside, though, this is the wrong age for SNL to do either political satire or send-ups of talk shows, because the bar has been raised too high for that stuff, and the current cast isn't cut out for it. It feels like they think they have to do it, because that's what SNL does (this also works as a summary of Joe Piscopo's entire SNL ouevre).

The most memorable SNL performances, though, came from people who weren't trying to repeat an earlier cast's success. The original cast created something completely different from what was then on TV, Eddie Murphy saved the show by running in an entirely different direction, and, as people now seem to forget, Will Ferrell created some extravagantly and defiantly weird TV (the Lord of the Flies morning TV sketch with Grier and Oteri that predicted the gang fight in Anchorman; "more cowbell"; his Neil Diamond). It took people several years to warm to Ferrell. To me, the show is at its worst whenever Jason Sudeikis's Biden is on-screen, because it's a bad impression with no convincing hook done out of duty to SNL's traditions rather than any comic imperative, a cheap Phil Hartman ripoff (though, in candor, I never enjoyed much of Phil Hartman's work until News Radio). The show needs more people trying weird things, not more Sudeikises echoing Piscopo echoing Aykroyd (and note: head writer Seth Myers was the boyish guitar-playing successor to Jimmy Fallon, who was just a cut-rate Adam Sandler).

So I agree with the consensus (where "consensus" = Hitfix) that this week's was a good, but not great episode, and completely disagree with the "why." When Spacewoman said to me something that I hear a lot -- "nothing after the news is ever any good" -- I had to disagree. To me, that's where all the good stuff, the really weird stuff, is. The best thing on the show was the last -- the bizarre NASA-potato chip sketch with the inexplicable accents, antebellum costuming, 70s set dressing, and weird melodrama. That may be my favorite thing on SNL all year. And I loved the "To Catch a Predator" talk show, not for the talk show part of it, but for the way it absolutely nailed the feel of the source material (particularly Chris Hansen hiding under the desk). Though it came before the news, I also thought the "Under-Underground Festival" ad was very funny. Which, oddly, makes two sketches where I enjoyed Sudeikis. Then again, I had no need for the compulsories -- the political bit, the dig at reality stars, the parody of the guest's show, the notion that anything making fun of one of the boroughs or of New Jersey is itself a punch line (all of which came before the news).

Incidentally, despite the fact that he appears as a performer in just about every movie there is, I can't shake the thought that when Bill Hader leaves the show, he is going to write and run a transcendently funny TV show. And one other thing: If you took the "over" on Matt's query about the number of mentions of Blake Lively's breasts, you lost some money.