Saturday, February 14, 2009

THIS BITES AND SUCKS: I'm sure that it's the product of market analysis demonstrating that these covers sell better than others, but this marked EW cover 4 for Twilight in the past 12 months, plus at least 2 other covers referencing Twilight prominently. I mean, in a week where you could have done an Oscar cover, a He's Just Not That Into You, Friday The 13th, or Confessions of a Shopaholic cover, why on earth devote not just the cover, but 8 pages of a 76 page issue (more than 10%, and probably closer to 25% if you count editorial content only, excluding ads), to a movie that's basically completed its theatrical run (it moved to second run theatres this weekend), and which isn't due on DVD for a while?
WHAT IF THEY DIDN'T? Like Alan, I'm still not completely sold on Dollhouse's fusion of Alias and My Own Worst Enemy, at least in part because I haven't bought the "Eliza Dushku is a Great Actress" theory--part of what made Alias work so well is that you could equally buy Garner as a club girl and a dorky cover identity, while Dushku's "I wear a bun and glasses and speak in clipped tones, so must be smart" doesn't really sell it. Also, I watch Whedon shows in part for the funny. Despite bits of comic relief, this was pretty unrelentingly dark. That said, Firefly took a few episodes to find its footing, and Buffy was scattershot for its first season, and there are a good number of interesting questions--who is/was Echo and how did she get into the Dollhouse, in particular. Whedon's earned enough goodwill that it'll get a few more episodes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

NO FIGHT LEFT, OR SO IT SEEMS: The good news, via Nikki Finke -- the performances of Oscar-nominated songs have been reduced to a single ~5 minute medley, rather than 20+ minutes of Ain True Boredom interspersed throughout the proceedings.

The bad news, I suppose, is that Peter Gabriel's no longer interested in performing his WALL-E song, as he explained via letter: "[I]n recent discussions with the Producers, it became clear that despite there being only three nominees, only 60-65 seconds was being offered, and that was also in a medley of the three songs. I don't feel that is sufficient time to do the song justice, and have decided to withdraw from performing."

Respectfully, I doubt we're missing much -- I'll give you two memorable performances of nominated songs in the past decade, and that's about it: Dylan, "Things Have Changed"; and a jaunty little number by R. Williams & Company. (Okay, the Dylan performance isn't that good; I just wanted an excuse to link to this Barb Jungr cover of same.)

e.t.a. A third suggested by Mr. Fienberg: Elliott Smith, "Miss Misery".
IF YOU'RE A CREEP, YEAH, YOU'RE A JERK, PRESS 1. IF YOU HAVE A NEW COMPLAINT FOREVER IN DEBT TO OUR PRICELESS ADVICE, PRESS 2. IF CLEARLY YOU REMEMBER PICKING ON THE BOY, PRESS 3. IF YOUR EYES NEED TO BE FED AND SEWN SHUT, PRESS 4. IF THIS IS YOUR KIND OF LOVE, PRESS 5. IF YOU'RE GOING TO EAT A LOT OF PEACHES, PRESS 6. IF THIS IS FACT NOT FICTION FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YEARS, PRESS 7. TO KISS THE SKY, PRESS 8. IF YOU'RE FEELING MINNESOTA, PLEASE HANG UP AND TRY YOUR CALL AGAIN: Something I learned flitting around on the web after reading Bob's post on Muzak: If you call the City of Seattle and are put on hold, rather than smooth jazz or Vivaldi, you get a selection of independent local artists. It looks like a pretty eclectic mix too, assuming that Choklate and Recess Monkey haven't incorporated "Quintet for Clarinet & Strings in A Major, K. 581, Allegro" and "Snijeg Pade Na Behar Na Voce" in their live shows. What a great idea.
WHO ARE EIGHT PEOPLE THAT HAVE NEVER BEEN IN MY KITCHEN? What distinction do the following eight people share?
  • Henry Kissinger
  • Bob Hope
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Whoopi Goldberg
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee
  • Jesse Jackson
  • Karol Wojtyla

Answer here.

YOUR MOTHER I CAN UNDERSTAND, BUT SINCE WHEN ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO TELL YOUR EX-FIANCEE WHEN YOU'RE BACK IN TOWN? Since, as some of you have noticed, we haven't done a Grey's Anatomy post in a while (probably due, at least in part, to its conflict with The Office and 30 Rock and its entrenchment as a DVR show), I'll throw this up with three half-baked thoughts:
  • Bringing Addison back and surrounding Derek with old friends only highlights how mopey everybody usually is. This show is really manic depressive (usually depressive) -- either there's angsty self-destruction or there's spastic dancing and gleeful consensual body mutilation. The pre-dancing bar scene, with people just having low-key playful conversations, is kind of the meat of a good life -- can't anybody get that on a regular basis at Seattle Grace?
  • Dr. Sloan, maybe for that very reason, is the best thing about the show right now. His delivery of the whole appropriately professional congratulations to Lexie, followed by blurting things out about Derek and Meredith, was the high point of the episode. And Eric Danes has surprisingly good chemistry with the much younger (seeming?) Chyler Leigh.
  • How many times will Karev have to reluctantly diagnose a girlfriend with a mental illness? If every girl that loves you is literally insane, what does that say about you? I kind of hope he gets a crazy girlfriend every season.
ON JEOPARDY THE ANSWER MIGHT BE 75 BEATLES TUNES, 324 LED ZEPPELIN SONGS, AND 984 MILES DAVIS RECORDINGS: The question, contrary to popular expectations, would be "what are some of the songs played on Muzak?" The company, long associated with elevator music, sought bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.

Wikipedia provides a reasonably comprehensive history of the company. Far more interesting is a New Yorker profile of what the company actually does these days, which might best be described as enhancing the retail experience for customers. Dana McKelvey, a Muzak programmer, is quoted in the article:
"Take Armani Exchange. Shoppers there are looking for clothes that are hip and chic and cool. They're twenty-five to thirty-five years old, and they want something to wear to a party or a club, and as they shop they want to feel like they're already there. So you make the store sound like the coolest bar in town. You think about that when you pick the songs, and you pay special attention to the sequencing, and then you cross-fade and beat-match and never break the momentum, because you want the program to sound like a d.j.'s mix."

I gather that the company has been losing money for a number of years. Although it does plan to continue operations, Muzak's bankruptcy filing listed liabilities in excess of $370 million and assets of just $50,000, not an appealing ratio by any means.

From time to time I patronize a small food coop in Swarthmore. I have no idea if its sound system is by Muzak, but every time I shop there I hear a song that reminds me of an ex-girlfriend. The experience is a pleasant trip down memory lane, but I don't believe I buy more food simply because I might happen to hear Everything But the Girl perform a song that once meant the world to me.
AND THEY SAY REALITY SHOWS NEVER LEAD TO ANYTHING GOOD: Two pieces of New York theatrical casting news that may be of interest:
DEAN STOCKWELL, HUH? Last night I finished watching Season 2.5 of Battlestar Galactica. I have really been enjoying the show, which well deserves all of the accolades people throw at it -- in fact, the Cylons have decimated my slate of regular TV shows. Lost, Top Chef, HIMYM, and AI have survived, but both Grey's Anatomy and Big Love are gone, along with lesser lights like Fringe. (I assume that I will ultimately catch up on both Grey's and Big Love online or on DVD, but it doesn't feel pressing at the moment -- how's that for a testament to the quality of BSG?)

BSG is the first super-plot-intensive serial I've watched after the fact -- I started both Alias and Lost when they premiered, and picked up Grey's (which doesn't really fall into the same category) after that first 9-episode mini-season, so I didn't really miss all that much other than the immediate shock of Addison's existence. Mad Men and West Wing were later acquisitions, but like Grey's, they're not plotty in the same way that Lost and BSG are. So this is really my first foray into ex post facto viewing of a show that's elicited a rabid internet fan base.

And so my BSG experience has been colored by the dribs and drabs of things that I've picked up over time. I've tried, more or less, to avoid spoilers, but when a show's been on for four seasons and you spend as much time reading TV coverage on the internet as I do, it's impossible not to absorb some information by osmosis. (And I didn't really try to lock down spoilers until a few months ago, anyway, since I didn't always think I was ultimately going to watch the show.)

So I knew that Hera would eventually show up, long before that plot point was telegraphed and later revealed (although I am pleased to say that I have no idea what happens with that character after she shows up at the school in the season 2.5 finale); I had a vague sense of the Tomb of Athena and what happens there; I know that both Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell (in all of her non-This Is Not a Real Aspie glory) are still on the show, so that took away some of the suspense at various points -- that kind of thing. I also knew about New Caprica's existence ahead of time, which is fine, but more of a bummer is the fact that I know where the gang ends up at the end of Season 4. I don't know which four people were revealed as Cylons in this year's season premiere -- this is one plot point that I am trying with all my might to avoid -- but the mere fact that I knew there were five left at the end of Season 4 meant that I had a really clear idea of how many there were to be revealed between between the end of Season 1 and the end of Season 4. I know that Starbuck is really really important for reasons that I am happy to report that I don't know. And thanks to a cousin of Mr. Cosmo's who apparently thinks that no one ever reads her Facebook wall, I know who the final Cylon is. I'm sure I know other stuff too, and that I'll realize sometime during Seaons 3 and 4 that I'm aware of other things that I didn't realize I knew. So yeah, some of the twisty-turny shock value is lost on me, which I'm sure is detracting to some extent from my enjoyment of the show, but there's plenty of enjoyment left.

All of this is a really long-winded introduction to a request. I know that there's a whole universe of ancillary stuff that goes along with this show, but I've never been clear on what goes where timing-wise. I gather there's something called the Razor movie as well as a bunch of webisodes, but is there anything else? And when am I supposed to watch this stuff -- now? Or between seasons 3 and 4? 4 and 5? And is the Razor movie an internet thing or will it be on the DVDs for one of the other seasons?

(Oh, and P.S., I find it really entertaining that there seem to be two and only two differences between the 13th colony and the other 12: the word "frak" and a polytheistic religion.)
OPEN YOUR BRAIN-TANK, BRAH, BECAUSE HERE COMES SOME PREMIUM 91 OCTANE KNOWLEDGE: Apropos of nothing except the fact that we stopped at our local service station today -- under what circumstances, if any, do you fill your car with something other than the lowest-octane fuel available?

See, related and still unsatisfactorally answered from 2005, does it matter what level of exterior treatment you obtain at a car wash?
So how was the idea of doing it different than actually doing it?

It was actually way more fun doing it. You're in a circus! You're running through airports with a camera crew and there's like, dwarves and giant Amazonian women's basketball players and everyone's in matching outfits and it's so fun. You know, when you're in LA, you're always like, "Maybe there's something more fun going on somewhere else," but for that period of time where you're on the race, there's definitely nowhere else you'd rather be than there.

Had you done anything to prepare for it beforehand? Like, a lot of map reading?

We did have enough time for my dad to go insane with the idea of matching outfits. His long-dormant dream of walking around in matching outfits finally came to the fore! They encourage you to wear a color scheme just to identify the teams, and ours was royal blue. So my dad was like, "Oh, we've got to get matching outfits!" and I was like, "Dad, we don't have to wear, like, the exact same clothes. Wearing things with a similar color is enough." And he got so frustrated! And so he went into my closet and saw the stuff that I had pulled out for the race, and went out and bought the exact same clothes! And so I was like, "I guess I'm gonna be that guy, wearing the same thing as his gay dad on national TV."
See also this Newsweek interview. Sunday night, 8pm, set your TiVos.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK: After Blink-182 inexplicably was given a high-profile shot at the Grammys to announce their reunion, I'm sure you were thinking "what other bands popular in the late 90s are reuniting," right? In particular, I am certain you cared deeply that Limp Bizkit will release a new album and follow it up with a tour. No word on if they are still doing it all for the nookie, or whether you can take that cookie and place it someplace uncomfortable.
HARVARD DID NOT PREPARE ME FOR THIS: Not a great Office tonight -- more awkward than funny, though it depends on how much of a truth-teller Pam is -- and 30 Rock was more interested in callbacks (Michael McDonald! Orange children!) than in consistent character-based humor, but who cares when Baldwin is God?
IT'S NOT A SOUTH PHILLY SLIDE; IT'S A CALIFORNIA STOP: In the comments to Adam's post below about Dan Pohlig's plea that bikes should be allowed to blow red lights and stop signs if there is absolutely no traffic coming, I mentioned that I thought Minnesota already allowed this. Commenter Squid, who is absolutely my favorite commenter who is also a bicycling squid from Minnesota, said no, Minnesota is not so enlightened. Turns out I was confusing Minnesota with its similarly northern and noncoastal but bicycling-squid-deprived sister state Idaho.

Idaho, as it turns out, is the nation's only stop-as-yield state. As the article says, a bicyclist in Idaho must observe all yield rules at a stop sign or a red light, but if there's no traffic coming, may proceed through a stop sign without stopping and may proceed through a red light after stopping. The law has been on the books since 1982 without any noticeable increase in bicyclist injuries (no word on injuries to others). The Oregon legislature has a similar bill before it, so there's a chance that pretty soon you'll be able to ride the long way from the Pacific Ocean to Canada without ever putting your feet down.
PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT: Today for Cleveland, tomorrow or Saturday for everybody else. I'm just saying.
"JOAQUIN, I'M SORRY YOU COULDN'T BE WITH US TONIGHT": Very odd behavior by Joaquin Phoenix on Letterman last night. Was it an act? Or has JP gone off the deep end? The pause at around 1:49 of the clip is priceless and the follow-up line is even better. Hilarious, but a little disturbing. See the carnage here.

Hat Tip to a frequent commenter whom I believe prefers not to be credited.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE EGG COUNCIL: The benedict/faux benedict pairing seemed like a lock to win the Quickfire, but Wylie Dufresne, super genius, went another direction entirely. Entirely.

Anyone else concerned that they're gassing Carla a little bit? Her "simple perfection" approach in this episode strikes me as a philosophy that would have drawn a lot of fire in prior seasons. Big thanks to the producers for airing the datum that she used to model, because it allows me to imagine that she is in complete and calculated control of the whole fraggle thing and helps imagine that she might take it all, which I like. She remains my favorite, though not in an odds-of-winning sense.

Great elimination challenge, with the judges effectively, pleasantly and playfully staged. I wanted to eat everything.

On to the comments: snide comments on the teased "showdown" between Stefan the Finnish Fin and Curly the Canned Crab Man welcome; theories about the proper allocation of talent/charisma in evaluating Fabio's success welcome; optimistic explanations of how Carla might pull it all off welcome; crushing reality checks about the degree to which she has been built up in the last few weeks also grudgingly accepted.
HE'S KOREAN. I'M FROM ENCINO. So other than the MIA Hurley, last night's Lost had something for everyone. You want answers to long-outstanding questions? We got 'em. Newer questions? We can answer some of them too. You want backstory on a newer character whose saga was eaten up by the writers' strike? No problem. Need a moment of insight into where Ben's loyalties lie? Ok, here's a smidge. Want some starcrossed lovers? Check. Feeling like we haven't seen some old friends in a while? Oh, here they are, right here. Lacking for some new and interesting mythological questions? Here's some hieroglyphics for you. When Sun is the weakest link in an episode, you know there's good stuff afoot.

As always, we point you first to Alan Sepinwall for the detailed analysis (and it's not like the rest of the internet is lacking for thoughts on last night's episode), but bring your coffee back here for a comfy chat in the comments.
...DON'T CRITICIZE IT: My friend Dan Pohlig would like to legalize the “South Philly Slide” for cyclists, which he defines as follows: "When a cross street is completely empty and a cyclist has a clear view in both directions, he or she should be given discretion as to whether they want to cross against a red light." Though affirming that hitting pedestrians should be strictly penalized, Dan insists: "A cyclist who darts through a red light without stopping and across oncoming traffic is doing something very dangerous. A cyclist who reaches a red light with a completely empty cross street, stops briefly, then proceeds is not."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

IF IT'S ANY CONSOLATION, YOU WOULDN'T HAVE WON ANYWAY: Fienberg liveblogs the long march to the big chair and the unveiling of the Final 36. I'll be honest -- once it was clear that long intro = in and that the spoiler list was holding up, I stopped watching and flipped to Lost, about which we'll have much to say. Will add in the First Wacky Dancing Montage as soon as it's available, though I have to agree with Dan that there are two guys in this first group of twelve who are decided favorites to be among the top three vote-getters next week.

Related: AV Club reviews the apparently-should-have-gone-straight-to-DVD teen sex comedy College, featuring a video excerpt of Kevin "Chicken Little" Covais in a situation you've never wanted to see him in before.

Unreality - The 15 Most Iconic Movie Masks of All Time |

DUST IN MY HAIR, HOLES IN MY SHOES, NO MONEY IN MY POCKET...: Just in time for the release of the new and improved Friday the 13th (now with extra whitener and lavender scent) it's the 15 Most Iconic Movie Masks of All Time.

Teaser for Tarantino's WWII movie now available for hyping� | TV | A.V. Club

DO YOU KNOW WHAT THEY CALL A QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE IN NAZI GERMANY? The first trailer for Quentin Tarantino's WW II epic, Inglourious Basterds (sic) is up.
TELL US HOW YOU REALLY FEEL, GOOGLE: I just saw this on the wonderful daily must-read (which probably got it from Gizmodo), but rather than link you to it I invite you to try it yourself: go to Google, type in "I am extremely" (without the quotation marks), wait for it to give you the auto-fill options, and are you seeing what I'm seeing at the bottom of the list? Is this some kind of dig at Jerry Yang?
DEPARTMENT OF ADOLESCENT HUMOR: If you liked ShamWow!, you're going to love the Slap Chop. In particular, did we need to hear from Vince proclaim (at 0:55) that "you're gonna love my nuts?"
NOW THAT ALL THE PAPERS ARE LAYING OFF THEIR RESTAURANT CRITICS, IT'S TIME TO STEP INTO THE VOID: I've been keeping tabs on the things that NYC restaurants are doing to stay afloat in the current subpar operating environment. (Ok, that's a polite way of saying that people are eating out a whole lot less, and in a city with more restaurants than employed investment bankers, that's a problem.)

Jean-Georges Vongerichten has been quick to act -- he's introduced semi-permanent $35 prix-fixe dinner menus at all of his restaurants. (You can check them out under "menus/winter promotion" for each restaurant.) But the really interesting one is Top Chef's Tom Colicchio, who is inventing new, cheap restaurants within his existing ones. The first one was Chef Damon Wise's Frugal Friday: in Craft's private dining room (which is presumably not getting a whole lot of biz from the Wall Street celebratory blowout crowd that fueled the growth of fancy private dining rooms throughout the city), Wise is offering a Friday night menu of market-driven offerings for under $10 each. "Snacks," for $5, include things like smoked beef tartar and smoked paprika flatbread; there are 6" pizzas for $7, with toppings like fresh ricotta, black cabbage, and truffle vinaigrette (that's one pizza); "Small Plates" include a griddled pork belly with braised peanuts and cranberry mustard; the enticing "Offal" section has a crispy pig ear with deviled egg salad and celery, and so forth.

And today Colicchio's press team announced Halfsteak, to be housed in the front dining room of Craftsteak. Halfsteak, for those of you without a hankering for offal, sounds yummy, offering up an all-over-the-place menu of half-orders of steaks, small plates, sandwiches, and something called "small pots" (pork and beans, chicken and lobster pot pie, and so on), as well as half-pints of beer, cocktails called things like Half-Baked and Not Half Bad), and individual little desserts -- check out this Eater link for all the details.

Unlike Vongerichten, who's offering up inexpensive options at his more expensive restaurants, Colicchio is basically opening new restaurants. Everything at both Halfsteak and Frugal Friday is set up to bring out the cash-poor diner (which would appear to include, well, everyone) who nonetheless doesn't want to learn to use his stove. It's not sitting there at Nougatine, wishing you could order the non-prix fixe options -- it's an entire restaurant where every choice is within the set budgetary constraint. I'm not totally sure whether Colicchio is going to make money off of this, but it's got to be better than looking out at an empty dining room, right?

New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike -- what creative approaches are your local restauranteurs adopting to weather the storm?
UNDER THE BOARDWALK: Somehow, I've managed to never go to Atlantic City (at least as an adult), but that there's now a direct (and reasonably priced--$39 each way) rail line between New York Penn and AC, with a free casino shuttle might actually get me down there. (That Caesars and the Borgata both still appear to want to charge nearly $400/night for a basic room on weekends, on the other hand, is a minus.)
WEDNESDAY MORNING, 3 A.M. (OVERHEARD AT THE GUNGA DINER VERSION): In which those who don't like spoilers and don't know what this might be about shouldn't click any of the hyperlinks.

(forty-ish male, paunchy, tweedy, vague, earnest)
Diner2 (thirty-ish female, brunette, athletic, upbeat, intense)
Diner3 (ageless male, curly ginger hair, taught, drawn, pale, unkempt)
Diner4 (ageless male, bald, perfect, naked, blue, luminous)
Waitress (patient)
Manager (managerial)

Diner4 -- (appears suddenly at the booth where the others are sitting.)

-- Jon! Thanks for coming.

Diner4 -- Of course.

-- You remember Dan and Rorschach.

Diner4 -- It would be more accurate to say that I am always already aware of them.

-- Hi, uh… Jon.

Diner3 -- (rising) Doc. Hi. Order squid. Bathroom.

Diner2 -- Oh, come on. We’ve barely said “hello,” and it’s been years!

Diner1 -- Just let him go. No use, really, arguing.

Diner2 -- Yeah. Sorry. Not exactly the life of the party anyway, right?

Diner3 -- (walking away) Heard that. Order squid.

-- Sorry! Squid! Right! Sorry.

Diner2 -- (whispering) You just had to reassemble him?

Diner4 -- He is necessary.

Diner1 -- Laurie, he’s a friend, after all.

Diner4 -- And necessary.

Diner2 -- Necessary for what, Jon?

-- This.

Waitress -- Hi folks. Welcome to the Gunga Diner. What can I get everyone tonight?

Diner2 -- Oh, hi. We were just… yes. Let’s see. One squid plate…

Waitress -- We don’t have a squid plate.

Diner2 -- Of course you do. You always did.

-- No. Sorry about that. Our new management cleaned up the menu a little bit. The squid plate’s out.

Diner2 -- Oh, um… okay. He said squid. How about the Cold War Calamari and Kim-Chi Salad then?

-- I’m sorry. No. I wasn’t clear. There’s no squid at all.

-- None? The, uh… Penn Station Squid Steak? That’s out?

Waitress -- Nope. I mean, yes, it’s gone.

Diner1 -- Wow. I guess I could just have a burger. I don’t really want a burger…

Diner2 -- And there’s no more Telekinetic Calamari Soup? That egg-drop thing you do with the tentacles?

Waitress -- There’s a regular egg-drop soup.

Diner2 -- No tentacles?

Waitress -- No tentacles.

-- I… wow….

Diner2 -- Psionic Squid Sandwich? With the spicy Sriracha sauce?

Diner1 -- Signature dish, there. You can’t possibly…

Waitress -- No. I’m afraid not.

-- Back. Hello waitress. Squid plate. One.

-- Oh, god. Rorschach...

Waitress -- I was just telling your friends that the menu has changed.

-- Hurrm. Changed. Why?

Diner1 -- Rorschach, there’s no squid.

Diner3 -- No? NO!!

Manager -- Is there a problem here?

Diner2 -- No, sir. It's just that our friend here really liked the squid plate.

Diner3 -- (hunched, squinting, jumping) No! No no no! No no no no no no no!

-- We all did, actually. Well, not the squid plate in particular. But that sandwich…

Diner2 -- And the soup. I can’t believe you took out the Calamari soup!

-- Well, there were some big changes when Pyramid Holdings took over the chain. I’m sure you noticed how we’ve brightened up the place! A little younger. Up to date. Tightening up the menu just helps keep the new Gunga Diner on point.

Diner3 -- Squid plate! Manager. Now!

Manager -- I’m sorry sir, how about...

-- Now!

Diner2 -- Rorschach, you can’t... Look, maybe he’s taking this a little too seriously, but we all had our favorites. Even you, right Jon?

Diner4 -- Yes. Angel hair pasta. With vegetables. Tossed in ink. Nero di seppia… Nìvuro di sìccia...

Manager -- Look, the kitchen had to take a thirty-minute right turn every morning cleaning that stuff, preparing it sixteen different ways. Corporate felt that section of the menu had become anachronistic, and explaining it to the customers would be a real distraction for staff.

-- It was, ah… more of a centerpiece, really. Not a distraction at all. Central, sort of, to the whole experience.

Diner3 -- Central! Necessary!

-- Sir. Please. In re-imagining the Gunga Diner, we came to view the squid as an arbitrary artifact of the pre-millennial socio-geography of the original franchise – unique maybe, but really just a quirk of the old place that had become almost incomprehensible to customers in our new target dining demographic.

Diner1 -- So it’s gone. The whole thing. Just like that?

Manager -- We had to compromise.

Diner3 -- No! Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise!

(awkward pause)

Diner2 -- I... I don’t know guys. I mean, I don't want to spoil the night. But maybe Rorschach’s right this time. Without the squid this place might as well just be another CGI Friday’s.

Diner1 -- Ouch.

Diner2 -- …no offense, Jon.

Diner4 -- None taken.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'M GOING BACK TO FIND SOME PIECE OF MIND IN SAN JOSE In the wake of the San Jose Sharks rally against the Boston Bruins, I find myself drawn -- yet again -- to the hope that San Jose might be for real and that this playoff run might be worth a closer look. But, as a California boy, I know nothing about hockey, save that Wayne Gretzky was good at it, and that ESPN's Barry Melrose has suits that make me believe he is the love child of Huggy Bear and a London Banker.

Oddly, the sports stations here at not hyping this too much as yet. San Jose has gone one-and-out, I think, five times since they opened the franchise and the folks here -- who, other than the transplants, know nothing about it -- are accustomed to such flame outs. But I'd like to watch this with a bit more clarity and be able to answer the Little Earthling's most basic questions about the game. Anyone suggest a good hockey blog where I might glean a few things? A good article introducing the game to an idiot like me? I know that there is something called icing, and something called offsides, but couldn't tell you the difference.

Also, Go Sharks.
CARVE MY NAME INTO HIS LEATHER SEATS: And that's why I was so excited about having four episodes of Hollywood Week on Idol this year -- a full hour of being introduced to the talented singers we're going to start voting on next week. Sure, there's never quite enough singing in these tightly-edited shows (hey, why not put all 72 auditions on YouTube?), but we've been introduced to plenty more people this time than last -- take a look at Dan Fienberg's rundown of last year's top 12 men and see how many had descriptions like "Because he's visually memorable -- check out the Muppet-esque dreads -- I kept seeing him in the background, but he was never heard."

You knew you were safe tonight if you were in Dead Wife Guy's room. Tomorrow, we'll see who makes the Wacky Dancing Montage, and then it's on.

e.t.a. Fienberg on The Dance of the Four Rooms.

e.t.a.2: The LA Times' Ann Powers: "This year's sad stories are pushing the inspirational envelope, with genuine mawkishness just a Dan Fogelberg cover away. A twentysomething widower, blind guy, and tornado victim all in one Top 36? What is this, an episode of ER?"

YouTube - Chad After Dentist

REALLY, DOES THIS EVER GET OLD? Darth Vader after the dentist.
I THINK SHE KNOWS WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN. SHE DOESN'T APPEAR TO BEAR US ANY GRUDGE: Noah Forrest implores the Academy not to give Kate Winslet her overdue Oscar this year. After noting the domino effect of Jack Lemmon's Oscar win being delayed until Save the Tiger (1974), leading to Al Pacino (Serpico that year) not winning until Scent of a Woman (1992), which in turn prevented Denzel Washington for winning for Malcolm X that year and waiting until Training Day, with also-nominated-in-1992 leads RDJ (Chaplin) and Eastwood (Unforgiven) still yet to win an acting Oscar, Forrest argues:

In my estimation, Kate Winslet should have four more nominations (which would bring her total to ten) and at least two wins for films she actually has been nominated for (which would put her on a par, in the Academy’s mind, with Hilary Swank). The three extra nominations would have been for her devastating performance in Quills, her tragic Ophelia in Hamlet, her insane turn in Holy Smoke and one of her best performances yet in this past year’s Revolutionary Road.

Her first win should have come for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which she inexplicably lost to Hilary Swank’s paragon of blue-collar heroism in Million Dollar Baby. Her Clementine lights up the screen in Michel Gondry’s film and not just because of her bright orange hair; within a fantastical world where memories can be erased, she crafts a character that is so true and so real that it grounds the entire film in a similar reality. She breathes life into an off-kilter character, making her odd behavior not only reasonable but also endearing. We fall in love with her spirit in the same way that Jim Carrey’s character does. [Skipping paragraphs on Little Children and Revolutionary Road, in order to get to ...]

The role of Hanna Schmitz is simply not a good role because the film doesn’t know what to make of her. She’s an illiterate ex-Nazi who doesn’t make any excuses for her role in the Holocaust, which is definitely interesting in theory. But in execution, the film wants me to have sympathy for her because she’s illiterate – as if being illiterate makes someone unable to know that killing is wrong. And Winslet’s performance is okay, as I said earlier, but I don’t really know what other way she could have played the role. I appreciate that she doesn’t resort to histrionics in any of the scenes, but that’s not the way the character is written anyway. She is understated and confounding and she does her job well enough.

But it’s not on the same level as Meryl Streep’s distressing turn in Doubt or Anne Hathaway’s ball of emotion in Rachel Getting Married or Melissa Leo’s soul-crushing portrayal in Frozen River or Angelina Jolie’s quiet strength in Changeling. I’m sorry, but of these five performances, Winslet’s is the least worthy of an award. It actually pains me to say that because I think she’s so wonderful and I desperately want to give her an award too, but it would mean snubbing somebody more deserving. It would mean that in future years, we would look back at this as a make-up Oscar rather than something won on merit alone.

CHEERS AND JEERS:Three short items of interest:
I WILL DO MY LEVEL BEST TO KEEP YOU FROM HUMMING THE SONG ALL DAY, BUT IF YOU CLICK ON THE VIDEO IN THE SECOND LINK, IT WILL BURROW ITSELF INTO YOUR SKULL: The popular "shared cultural understanding" boat ride at Disneyland has been renovated, adding in 29 Disney/Pixar characters and axing the original rainforest room. Even in advance, folks were livid:
One of the most egregious and downright disgusting decisions in Disney theme park history ... Cute as they may be, Belle, Mickey, Stitch or Nemo have nothing to do with selling the core values of UNICEF, the show’s original partner. Their appearance not only trivializes the central theme but more disturbingly seems to emphasize global brand marketing and franchising above all else.
But go ahead, if you dare, and hop on the boat. Just don't get violent, and be patient until the Hall of Presidents adds one more.

Monday, February 9, 2009

STILL THE GREATEST SHORTSTOP OF ALL TIME: The big news in sports today was, of course, Yankees star Alex Rodriguez's confirmation that he took "a banned substance" from 2001 to 2003 (when he played for the Rangers), which corroborates this weekend's reports that he was one of 104 major league players to test positive for steroids in 2003.

Rodriguez haters -- and I'm not one despite the Seattle angst over his jilting the team; unlike the strange people in New York who concoct bizarre fictions to justify their reverence of the wildly overrated Jeter at Rodriguez's expense, I think Rodriguez is one of the rare instances of a player justifying a superstar contract, and I have the win value data to prove it -- have already made this Exhibit ∞ in The Case Against A-Rod. But come on, let's think clearly about this.

104 players tested positive in 2003. What are the odds that MLB caught everybody? That Gene Orza did not, as is rumored, tip players off to the tests? That nobody used science to mask drugs? That the list of 104 overlaps the entire roster of players we know to have been using BALCO drugs, for which there were no tests -- including Bonds, Giambi, and Sheffield? So the 104 names on that list really are just a minimum, and reasonable minds can speculate about how many players just evaded detection. In other words, how many names you think should have been on the list depends upon how effective you think MLB's testing program was, given that MLB designed the testing program to create the appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing at all (there were no consequences, and both the names and the number of names were supposed to stay secret). It's shocking they even got 104 people -- how many players do you think they would have caught if they were trying to catch anybody? Anyway, even 104 players is more than one in every 7.5 players in major league baseball. Rodriguez had a lot of company.

My argument against caring about steroids usually isn't "everybody does it" (or its corollary, "the old-timers used to take performance-enhancing amphetamines"). Usually it's that I experience professional sports much like I experience video games or fiction -- it doesn't much matter to me how a person, character, or construct acquires his athletic skills. What matters to me is that he has them. But to the people who are crying about Rodriguez's unfair advantage, I'm skeptical that the unfairness of his advantage came from steroids, and I would caution people against demonizing Rodriguez while coddling their own heroes. This is grossly unfair, but which three or four players on your team do you think tested positive? And have you really taken an objective look at your heroes? At Derek Jeter? At Ryan Howard and Chase Utley? At Edgar Martinez? At Cal Ripken, Jr., a prematurely bald man who constantly played through injuries? Can you really say, "I am 100% certain that those guys never took steroids? I'm skeptical, and I always will be, even if somebody leaks the entire list of 104 (which I would love, by the way).

And for people who think that this is a stain on the sanctity of the game, or something like that, I'd just like to point out that major league baseball has, at one time or another, looked the other way as its players became violent drunks, institutional philanderers, vicious racists, self-destructive drug addicts, and mustache-wearers, all of which impose greater externalities upon others than do performance-enhancing drugs. Pro baseball players, by and large, are bad people, don't kid yourself.

One other thing I feel like I have to mention: I love that after all these years, whenever Alex Rodriguez gives a high-profile interview he still feels like he has to dress like an Archie Comics character, with the button-down collar peeking out from the brightly-colored sweater. Go Riverdale! I feel like that kid must be good at heart!

Is the world ready for an Asperger's sitcom? - By Paul Collins - Slate Magazine

"I JUST THINK OF HIS ACTIONS AS 'SHELDONY'": Slate talks to the Big Bang Theory producers about whether Sheldon Cooper is living with Asperger's syndrome.

YouTube - Dance Off with the Star Wars Stars 2008

I BET HAN SOLO IS REGRETTING BANNING DANCING AND ROCK MUSIC ON THE MILLENNIUM FALCON RIGHT ABOUT NOW: Not only do Chewie and a Jawa get footloose in this video, but at the 3:00 mark, Darth and the Stormtroopers get to show off their moves.
INSERT "ELECTRIC BOOGALOO" JOKE HERE: With Amazon announcing Kindle 2 today, I note we've never had a thread to discuss Kindles or other similar e-book technology. Anyone have one and willing to evangelize? Much as the idea of being able to carry 1,500 books in the outside pocket of my briefcase appeals to me, I'm still not convinced.
SHE SMILED SOME SUNSHINE DOWN OUR WAY: With sadness, we note the passing on Saturday of jazz singer Blossom Dearie.

Among her best known songs was "I'm Hip", about which Stephen Holden of the NYT wrote:
If you listened closely, you could hear the scathing contempt she brought to one of her signature songs, “I’m Hip,” the Dave Frishberg-Bob Dorough demolition of a namedropping bohemian poseur. Ms. Dearie was for years closely associated with Mr. Frishberg and Mr. Dorough.

Dearie was also known for her wistful romanticism, particularly in her interpretations of Jobim compositions such as "Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)" and "Wave."

Dearie sang several songs from the children's educational series Schoolhouse Rock! such as "Mother Necessity", "Figure Eight", and "Unpack Your Adjectives".

She will be missed.
THE 14,318 WORDS YOU CAN NDEED SAY ON TELEVISION: Look, every swear word ever used on the Sopranos, in order. 28 minutes of cussing, manifestly NSFW.

I get that Tiger's own nickname far exceeds the coolness factor of his given name, but is there some reason why Charlie and Sam couldn't be called Charlie and Sam but given a little extended dance version on their birth certificates that might be helpful on a resume someday? I mean, sure, if they can golf like their daddy and look like their mommy and clip the coupons from their daddy's endorsement portfolio for the rest of their lives, no job search may ever be necessary, but still -- even an athletic attractive trust fund baby might someday want to be a Supreme Court justice.

But I guess this is less relevant in a world where President Bronx Mowgli Wentz will be the one nominating Justice Sam Woods to the bench -- in which situation Sam and Charlie sound positively regal.
KRISTEN AND THE NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME PLAYETTES: There was a pretty bad SNL this weekend -- Bradley Cooper is not funny; he looks uncomfortably angry at all times -- and almost as soon as it started, I could not get my mind off a single question: Has any SNL performer ever dominated the show as much as Kristen Wiig does this season? I happen to agree with the writers that Wiig is the best thing about the cast right now, and her Bjork (Iceland tourism jingle: "There is no sun/You are on fire/Demons take your face/Come to Iceland!") was the highlight last night. Still, it can't be good for the show to rely so much on one performer. She was the featured player in all but one sketch through the news, and she does something like 80% of the recurring characters the show has right now. She's going to get burned out or the audience will get used to her, and then what? (My solution, which I understand is a tiny minority view: more Will Forte, especially after the news).

Incidentally, I owe an apology to Seth Myers, whom I think I once called an even unfunnier Jimmy Fallon. He's grown on me, and his Michael Phelps "Really?" was very funny.
LIVE FROM DC, IT'S MONDAY NIGHT: For those of you who haven't checked your TiVo, remember that the President's Press Conference tonight is playing havoc with the schedule, at least on the East Coast. Chuck and House will both be pre-empted in their entireties, and CBS has reshuffled--HIMYM will have a repeat at 8:30 if the press conference is done by then, and BBT (preempted at 8) will air at 9:30. The CW remains blissly unaware, and Gossip Girl will air the repeat as scheduled.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A PRODUCTION OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF RECORDING ARTS AND SCIENCES AND THE ALOTT5MA MANAGEMENT, THROUGH THE SUPPORT OF READERS LIKE YOU: Click below to join our Grammys live-blog, starting at 7:30pm. Join in. We'll post your comments; ask us questions; participate in the mischief:

e.t.a.: Monday morning, and what I'm struck by -- and no, this is hardly an original thought -- is that a thirty-year-old musical genre invented in the Bronx now has as a leading practicioner a culture-crossing Brit of Sri Lankan descent named Mathangi Arulpragasam who shared the stage last night with the sons of the Marcy Projects, Chicago, Atlanta and New Orleans who were sampling her music. (Also, that she's ridiculously pregnant, and I love this picture.)

The awards? Eh. I don't expect them to be better, though this felt like the equivalent of an Oscars in which Last Chance Harvey sweeps all the categories. One watches the Grammys to enjoy a 3 1/2 revue of the year in popular music, and while the evening rarely approached greatness -- no one's aspirations seemed high except for Radiohead -- it nevertheless moved along at a brisk pace, with so many of the awards handed out pre-show. I can certainly remember Grammy shows of a decade-plus ago which were compelled to have performances from and hand out awards in every nominated genre, and it made for a long, dull evening. [Apparently, FWIW, it was that Al Green/Timberpants/Boyz III Men number which was the late sub-in for Chris Brown and Rihanna.]

Hope you enjoyed our CoverItLive experiment; I anticipate you'll be seeing it again on Oscar night, for the Bee and other special events to come. Your thoughts on the awards, the performances and everything else remain welcome.

CRANKY ANSWERS TO SILLY QUESTIONS: Over at Slate, David Zax has marked the DVD release of an extended cut of Kevin Costner's Waterworld with two questions that the ALOTT5MA Research Department was able to answer over coffee this morning:

What if Waterworld were an eco-parable whose message was merely ahead of its time?

That would suggest a pronounced and perhaps irreversible degeneration of the eco-parable genre since the film’s release, as if we were spewing pollutants into the mental environment at a rate that might make all parable impossible within a generation. Alternatively, it would suggest a willingness to deploy a cheapened concept of “parable” that should give us real pause. Like, before asking that question, we should pause, Fezzik-like, and ask if that word means what we think it means.

But has Waterworld's moment finally arrived?