Saturday, November 14, 2009

LORD KNOWS WHAT BLUEBOOK RULE GOVERNS THIS SITUATION: In our continuing occasional series "Things I Learn From My Free Subscription to Watch! The CBS Magazine," a style point worthy of Fake AP Stylebook--both LL COOL J and NCIS: LOS ANGELES are ultra-proper nouns, requiring each and every letter be capitalized. (Oddly, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is not.)
THIS IS A WORD THAT HAS EVOLVED IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS -- A THING THAT SOUNDS LIKE A THING YOU CAN'T SAY: Now more than ever, primetime television is douchetastic.

added: SNL, May 24, 1980. "Give me a Sandwich and a Douchebag, and there's nothing I cannot do."

Friday, November 13, 2009

WE LOOK FOR FILMS WITH THE LINE 'SECURE THE PERIMETER': Yes, I could spend hours just reading Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks talking to each other.
THE ZOMBIES HAVE BEEN SHORT-CHANGED FOR THE LAST TIME: You will never in a million years guess what teen film/phenomenon is on the EW cover. Again.

[Okay, I can't complain without offering an alternative: Modern Family.]
SAVE TRAMPOLINE BEAR: I haven't watched 30 Rock from last night yet, but there's apparently a pretty vicious Around The Horn parody. That triggers a question and topic for discussion--why does PTI (at least when hosted by the original dynamic duo) work, while Around The Horn (and other attempts to replicate the format) fail? Also, why isn't there an entirely pop-culture based takeoff on the PTI format, why hasn't VH1/E! tried to do one, and why haven't we been asked to host it?
LESBIAN YELLOW SOUR FRUIT: I don't know how people can watch 30 Rock without a TiVo -- seriously, go back and watch all the scrolls during Sports Shouters (the 0-0 soccer scores, the KC Royals being left off the 2010 schedule, the Rick Pitino joke), then make sure you caught the deliberate continuity error in the opening, and then we can talk about just how much it makes a difference when the show returns to the Liz-Jack relationship which is at the core of the show. That, and Canadian football jokes.

As for The Office, it wasn't a great episode but I appreciate where this is going. Really: are there any other shows on tv which reflect contemporary economic concerns like The Office does (and always has)? It does make Modern Family -- which I love, mind you -- look like it's existing in Greater FairyLand by comparison. (That, and that Lily keeps disappearing.) The silliness got a little too silly, though I liked Oscar's attempts at a Southern accent (and Creed's reaction to it all, while predictable, was nonetheless great) and the standoff at the end is one of the better post-credits sequences they've had in a while. Also, and I can't believe I'm saying this -- is it time for more Nard Dog, less Schrute?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

NFL shipwrecks Captain Morgan campaign - NFL - Yahoo! Sports

... AND I'LL BE NO ONE, WHILE ANDY REID CAN CARRY YOU AWAY IF YOU WANT TO: The NFL has sent to Davy Jones' Locker a liquor company's plans to make charitable contributions to the NFL retired players benefit fund whenever a player posed like Captain Morgan after scoring a td.
IT SHOULD BE PRINCE. IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE PRINCE. MAYBE EVERY THIRD YEAR IT COULD BE MORRIS DAY AND THE TIME: Sports Illustrated believes it has learned Who will be playing the Super Bowl halftime show this year.
SOMETHING HAS CHANGED WITHIN ME: So, an interesting little episode of Glee last night--light on things we dislike ("fake baby" subplot completely absent!) but also some things we like (only 3 songs, with 1 at the start and 2 at the end). Perhaps because of the lack of singing (and lack of Finn/Rachel focus), it was also much less campy, and YMMV as to whether that's a good thing--Sepinwall, who's not much for the camp, generally liked this one. And yes, there was some authentically emotionally affecting stuff in there--the plot with Kurt and his dad is honest and tender, the Sue Sylvester plotline was (for once) more than an excuse for Jane Lynch to deliver great bitchy lines, the Quinn/Puck scene when cooking cupcakes was tender in that cheesy teen-rom-com way, and it was nice to see Tina and Artie get a plotline. There was still plenty of funny--Jeff Lewis (Vork!, whose appearance should require that Felicia Day appear in the Whedon-directed episode, perhaps as a relative of Emma's) as the guy Finn and Rachel blackmail into giving Finn a job, and (as Isaac observed) pretty much every moment from Heather Elizabeth Morris as Brittany. What did everyone else think?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CHIHULY! Nice little challenge to ask the Cheftestants to visit a Las Vegas casino and create a dish inspired by it, even if some obvious choices were left out -- Luxor (Egyptian), Rio (Brazilian), Stratosphere (pointless vertical plating), Monte Carlo (food for possibly gay bobsleighers), and The Riviera (cuisine to remind you old people smoking cigarettes). But even if you can't figure out what a deboned chicken wing has to do with the First Responders of New York, New York or how to make a simple panna cotta, you can still hop on the Deuce and join us in the Comments.
BADLY DRAWN BOY? So, because there are 20 eligible films for Best Animated Feature, there can be five nominees--interestingly, we have a mo-cap film (A Christmas Carol) and a live-action/animated hybrid (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel) in play, but Avatar isn't running in the category. 3 stop-motion films may also be a record for the category, and right now, I'd guess Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox (which seems to be a return to form after a couple of major missteps for Wes Anderson, based on early Tomatometer, and is a top priority for me this weekend) join Up, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, and Princess and the Frog as your five nominees.

Things What Things » The Amazing Race: Overthinking The Female-Team Problem

FOR ONCE, MARIA WAS THE MAN IN THE RELATIONSHIP: Miss Alli has a lot to say about the poker players' elimination from last week's Race. After a detailed review of what the Detour required -- and it wasn't so much the strength -- she notes:
For some reason, people keep saying that all-female teams are always knocked out for lack of physical strength and that’s why they’ve never won, which is not true in the slightest. The BQs were knocked out in All-Stars by the final task, which was a quiz, and in their original season by wandering around looking for a Detour. They were probably the team with the best chance of winning, no? Charla and Mirna were knocked out in their first season by bad navigating and slow consumption of scrambled eggs, and in All-Stars by that same final task that killed the BQs. Strength is not how Lena and Kristy went out. It’s not how Emily and Nancy or Dark Hair and Light Hair went out. It’s not how Heather and Eve went out, or Christie and Jodi (remember them?), or Kisha and Jen, or Jaime and Cara. It’s certainly not how Debbie and Bianca went out, given that they drove literally hours in the wrong direction. You could go on and on, but this isn’t really how the all-female teams have typically gone out, at all, so when People hands Tiffany and Maria the excuse, “It must hurt to be yet another all-female team knocked out due to a lack of strength,” I’m not sure what they’re talking about. I think people are thinking of the Bowling Moms, and it’s true that Colin passed them on that ascender thing, but Colin was a super-athlete. Being passed by Colin on that task is something that would have happened to anyone who wasn’t a super-athlete.

... Their being knocked out says absolutely nothing about whether the whole thing is biased against women, because we all know it’s biased — not hopelessly, but somewhat — against teams where one person is trying to do all the work.
KNOW WHEN TO WALK AWAY: Every man, if he lives long enough, sooner or later will find himself courting a night's sleep in Delaware. My time came early this week.

There is a great number of reasons to go to Delaware. That great number is "one," and it has something to do with incorporation. For some time, Delaware has been working on adding a second number ("number two," it would be called) to reflect its wagering industry. Delaware fervently wishes to style itself the number-two non-Indian gaming destination in the portion of the United States north and east of New Orleans.

Perhaps it has succeeded, but if anyone needs help understanding that Las Vegas and gambling have a symbiotic, not causal, relationship, Delaware is a good place to go to make that clear. I stayed at Dover Downs, which is both (apparently) the best full-service hotel within 15 minutes of Delaware's governmental seat and a state-of-the-art Delaware-style casino. When I found out I was staying at a casino, I was excited to play blackjack. Except Delaware prohibits table gaming. Okay, but with a little industry, I'd get there at 8:00 on a Monday night, just in time to take advantage of Delaware's much-ballyhooed legalization of NFL wagering. Except that you have to place your wager by midnight on Saturday.

So if there's no real sports book and no table gaming, what is there? First, slots, and acres of them. Second, chariot racing, which is befuddling to me. What is the point of chariot racing other than to favor professional gamblers at the expense of casual bettors? Third, laughable attempts to circumvent the table-gaming ban. The "blackjack" section of the casino -- right in the middle of the floor, where all casinos put their blackjack pits -- features a dozen or so kiosks set up like blackjack tables. Instead of tables, they have glass-covered videos screen where your virtual cards land, and instead of dealers, they have more large video screens with footage of what appear to be aging, inexpertly enhanced strippers in too-small cocktail dresses awkwardly miming the dealing of cards. Though obviously meant to provide a simulacrum of dealer interaction, their ill-timed fidgets and smiles make clear that you aren't present for them any more than they are present for you, putting them squarely at the floor of the uncanny valley. Which, in turn, emphasizes that you're just playing video blackjack on particularly gaudy machines.

What Vegas does exceedingly well is sell you on a hedonistic experience of which gambling is only a part. It gives you a wide variety of things to do -- eat, see, ride, relax -- and is perfectly content to stick its hand in your pocket for just the hour or two between your activities, or as a distraction while you're doing them. It serves up drinks and encourages friendly interaction with dealers and fellow players to cultivate the warm feelings that will bubble over into short bursts of impulsive, irrational wagers. Delaware-style gambling is the opposite of that. People's eyes are glassy from the video screens, and nobody is interacting with anybody. Sports bets must be made days in advance, so the bettors don't hang around cheering their interests and commisserating over setbacks. It's illegal to sell liquor at below cost, so you can drink only what you buy. Delaware-style gaming is a peculiarly antisocial kind of gambling, almost a defiant declaration that people will gamble even if it's not fun, and it assuredly is not. Good luck with that.
IT'S CERTAINLY NO CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS: Is it wrong that my immediate reaction to this story was that "A Very Gosselin Christmas" sounds like, quite possibly, the worst holiday special imaginable? (OK, "Spiedi's Very Special Holiday Season" might be worse.)
NONE OF US HAVE EVER REALLY HAD THAT MOMENT WHERE IT'S JUST YOU. YOU DON'T HAVE A STICK IN YOUR HAND, AND YOU CAN'T HIT ANYBODY: Remember when we were all excited in the States about Skating with Celebrities, and then it totally flopped? Our Neighbors to the North have apparently made the concept work, by having former hockey stars pair with Canadian figure skating legends (Tie Domi! Bob Probert! Jamie Salé! Shae-Lynn Bourne!) in the hit new show Battle of the Blades. Yes, former goons being judged by Katarina Witt, and I'd bet solid money that Robin Scherbatsky makes reference to the show before season's end. Let's take a look.
WHO COULD HAVE FORESEEN THAT AUDIENCES WOULD SPEND FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY WAITING FOR GUARINI TO TRY TO KILL BART SIMPSON OR STEP ON A RAKE 17 TIMES IN A ROW, RATHER THAN ROOTING FOR HIM TO GET THE GIRL HE WAS CONTRACTUALLY, PROFESSIONALLY, AND LEGALLY OBLIGATED TO PINE FOR? Even by My Year of Flops standards, Nathan Rabin's take on the only American Idol film ("All films require suspension of disbelief. From Justin To Kelly requires something more like a temporary lobotomy") is particularly noteworthy for its level of snark.

Odd thing, though: had High School Musical come first -- because the plots (and certainly tone) weren't that much different -- the audience would have been totally primed for this, and it would have been a hit. Instead, FJTK merely delayed Clarkson's rise to occasional-stardom and Guarini's return to relative obscurity, though it sadly prevented the world from ever seeing the Ruben Studdard/Clay Aiken buddy comedy and Carrie Underwood/Bo Bice slasher film to which we as a nation were entitled.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

THE TAKEOVER, THE BREAK'S OVER: Will Leitch, on what it all means now that Bill Simmons has the #1-selling hardcover nonfiction book on the New York Times list:
It's easy to forget this now, now that sports blogs are everywhere, now that Simmons is as much of an establishment figure as Chris Berman, now that the man produces his own television show, but back when he first came to ESPN, in 2001, he seemed like a revolutionary figure. I remember working in a doctor's office in May 2001 and reading his Is Roger Clemens the Antichrist? column. (I was not familiar with his Boston Sports Guy work.) I couldn't believe someone was getting away with this. Today, phrases like "kicked in the gonads," "this was the musical equivalent of U2 asking for a contract extension from their record company on the heels of "Zooropa" and "Pop")" and "looking like he was auditioning for the 'Chris Farley Story'" are familiar Simmons tropes: Everyone writes like that now. But not in 2001...

Now there he is, atop the New York Times Bestseller list, as establishment a pedestal as one can imagine. Simmons did something incredibly rare, particularly in our fractured, niche media world: He made the culture come to him. His triumph is his own, but, in a strange way, it feels like a victory for all of us. The sports culture needed changing, and Simmons is walking evidence that it can, and did. Somewhere out there, there's a college student with a viewpoint different than everyone else, and he/she will show up and change everything too, exposing Simmons (and the rest of us) the way he did to Reilly. That'll happen again. Thank heavens. Good ideas win out. Perseverance and new perspectives break through. The old rots and washes away. Sometimes the good guys win.
That it happens to be a great, comprehensive book is just bonus.
PREVIOUSLY ON "ALOTT5MA": Frequent commenter Meghan noted on October 26 that "I'm due this week. Mariam Rebecca should be showing up any day now. If people would like to send labor-inducing ideas/vibes my way, I'd really appreciate it." Well, funny thing about due dates, but Mariam Rebecca was indeed born on Friday, November 6, and according to at least one observer "is doing great, and is super cute."

On behalf of the entire team here, congratulations! If we ever get around to creating our official ALOTT5MA Newborn Gift Basket (Laurie Berkner CD, Sandra Boynton board books, simethicone drops, and a copy of Roger Ebert's Your Movie Sucks for late-night amusement), it'll be on its way.
LET YOUR BALALAIKA SING WHAT MY GUITAR WANTS TO SAY: We weren't really sure how to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall yesterday -- important, obviously, and with obvious popular cultural ramifications not limited to the increasing popularity of the rock band Scorpions and the demise of "East German swimmer" jokes. Like Tiananmen Square earlier that year, we knew we were watching history happen in front of us on live television ... only, this time, history kept moving forward, and nothing says new-found freedom like David Hasselhoff singing atop the Wall in an illuminated leather jacket.

added: Peter Jennings, live from Berlin, 11/10/89.

Monday, November 9, 2009

THAT'S THE ONE I DAVEN AT EVERY SHABBAS; THE OTHER SHUL, I WOULDN'T GO TO NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU PAID ME: Via Volokh, a new study of American Jewish language patterns (PDF). For some of you, reading it is bashert; others may not want to schmooze over whether Ezra, Ari, Talia and Eliana are appropriate baby names, or whether Shabbat shalom! or Good Shabbas! (or even Gut Shabbas!) is the proper Sabbath greeting.
COMEDIANS FOR COMPENSATION: There is a great book to be written about the standup comedy scene of the 1970s in Los Angeles, a worthy successor to Gerald Nachman's Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s. Too bad William Knoedelseder's I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era isn't it.

And it's a real missed opportunity, because we're talking about a scene which catapulted into national stardom David Letterman, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Andy Kaufman, Elayne Boosler, Jimmie Walker, Freddie Prinze and countless others ... including, um, Leo Gallagher. But instead of doing the research and telling the whole story from all the participants, supplementing with deeper research, Knoedelseder seems to focus on the folks he was closest to back in the day like Tom Dreesen and the forgotten, sad Steve Lubetkin, whose every scrap of paper winds its way into the book.

Yes, it's interesting to read about the labor dispute which forms the centerpiece of this book, with Dreesen and Leno among the lead negotiators and Garry Shandling and Yakov Smirnoff crossing the picket lines at The Comedy Store, and the attention paid to the importance of The Tonight Show and the place of women in the scene is worthy. But the book's not well-written (misspellings abound) and it doesn't linger in the places you'd want it to -- there's just not enough about the comedy itself and how the various performers developed their routines. Anyone who didn't seem to give him access (like Robin Williams) gets unrebutted potshots, and the whole thing feels uneven.

Still, if I'm going to post a negative review about a comedy book, I ought to give you something to smile about, so here's two related notes: (1) the casting call from Happy Days for "Mork from Ork" went to Robin Williams and ... master of neurotic comedy Richard Lewis, who told producer Garry Marshall that the only potential alien in the room was Williams (2) via YouTube, David Letterman's 1978 appearance on Mork & Mindy as an EST-ish cult leader. And while we're at it, rare footage of Letterman competing for CBS in the that year's Battle of the Network Stars in kayak and track relay.
SWEDE GEORGIA BROWN: Not a particularly interesting episode of TAR, except for the building resentment by the brothers against the Globetrotters ("Did your fans help you get here?"). It was nice that the hay bales were at the pit stop and, for TAR Season 24 contestants, note that the clue is always in the tightly wound core of the roll.
SPECTACULAR SPECTACULAR: So Jen and I both lost our Cirque du Soleil virginity during this trip to Las Vegas, and as is often the case (or so popular culture tells me) we enjoyed the first time so much we leapt at the opportunity to do it again the next night. First with the Beatles show, LOVE, and then with the gravity-defying , each astounding in its own way. LOVE is a whimsical, exuberant run through the Beatles catalog that's much more emotional than straight narrative, much more of an interpretive challenge than one would expect from Las Vegas, with an enjoyable level of the flipping in the air and the flying and what not.

(One has to love disclaimers like "NOTE: The characters as described below represent the Director’s vision for his show and in no way consist in an official interpretation of The Beatles songs.")

And then, KÀ, for which the mammoth tilting stage itself produces a holy shit! reaction ... and then, well, you know the rule -- if you're going to show me a model of a Wheel of Death in Act I, you damn well better deliver the mammoth Wheel of Death in Act III, which is just one of those jaw-dropping stunts for which video cannot capture the level of risk and nervous energy. (Jaw-dropper number two is what I'd call "the human Plinko board.") I don't know how many people have the skills to pull off this performance, but thank goodness they're all in one place. KÀ has more dread and tension than LOVE and is less suitable for the kids, but, hey, why are your kids in Vegas?

A special thank you, by the way, to the Vegas equivalent of TKTS for making these shows that much more possible. Well worth the extra pre-show schlep to the theater's box office.
DRAPER'S EIGHT: Just an open thread to say how much I enjoyed last night's big payoff of a Mad Men finale. As usual, Alan Sepinwall has taken hours to say everything that needs saying, so I just want to know what your favorite moment was in an episode loaded for bear with favorite moments. I'm having too much trouble narrowing them down, myself, so just bring every kind of sandwich and a cake into our suite at the Pierre and we can figure it out in there.
PHYLLIS STEIN-NOVACK WILL BE PLEASED WITH NUMBER 64: As for me, #56 brings the largest smile as Bruce Buschel continues his list of 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do. He's clearly pressing to extend the list to the century mark as multiple renditions of "do what the customer says" and "make your own presence minimal" repeat again, but, hey, it's a start.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

YOU BELONG ON TV? Obviously, the big thing out of last night's SNL was the Digital Short that parodied Twilight, which is already showing preliminary signs of going viral (and man, was that a note-perfect Kristen Stewart impression). I'm not quite sure how to assess Swift as a performer--the singing monologue again demonstrated her weakness as a live singer (though she hit her comic notes well), and her Kate Gosselin was very "I'm reading the cue cards," though appeared to have been directed that way. That said, she seemed to relax as the show went along, and unlike a lot of non-actor hosts, they didn't depend on her playing herself in every sketch. (Also, points to her on the music for plainly singing live and sans autotune despite her weaknesses, and for having a picture into the performance that highlighted her band rather than just her.)