Saturday, December 5, 2009

WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: I'm finally getting around to this week's Gossip Girl and am unhealthily amused by the fact that a lawyer named "Lionel Tribbey" is referenced as the Waldorf family estate attorney, as I assume the name was taken from the West Wing character. What's next? Chuck Bass retaining Keith Mars to do some investigation for him out on the West Coast? Sandy Cohen suing Bass Industries for negligience?
DON'T YOU SEE HOW LATE THEY'RE REACTIN'? Okay, about 30 hours late on both these items, but insofar as both are the sort of thing you expect from us:
  • Correction of the Year nominee -- WaPo, Thursday: "A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number."
  • Dead Wrestler of the Month: That would be Eddie Fatu, who wrestled for the WWE under the name Umaga, dead of a heart attack yesterday at 36. But don't blame Vince! The WWE's terse press release makes sure you know they fired him earlier this year for failing to go to rehab, having previously suspended Fatu and nine colleagues in 2007 for steroid abuse. Fatu was a member of the fabled Anoa'i/Fatu wrestling clan from Samoa, including his uncles Afa and Sika (the Wild Samoans), older brother Rikishi and cousins Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson and the late Yokozuna.
I AM A NATIONAL TREASURE. I SHOULD BE CELEBRATED: As they do every year, the Washington Post's reporters set out to profile this year's Kennedy Center honorees and discuss their craft: Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, Grace Bumbry, Robert De Niro and Bruce Springsteen. [You'll never guess which one of the five does impressions of Hitler for small children.]

The ceremony will be held Sunday night, and air on CBS sometime towards the end of the year. Last year's honorees were profiled here.
DON'T PANIC, BE COOL, GET PAID: This is a post about Friday Night Lights, and I'm going to try not to spoil any plot twists. Read at your own risk, though.

Wednesday's episode (which I just watched tonight) was sublime. It's interesting, though, that it was sublime in a manner different from the way the show was sublime in its first superlative season. Back then, the show reserved its showy dramatics and grand speeches for the football scenes -- the part of the show's world that was self-conscious spectacle -- and told the off-field personal stories with smaller gestures, quieter words, and less polish. Even when hell was breaking loose, as in my favorite FNL scene, when Tyra's mom confronted Buddy Garrity coming out of church, it was the look that passed between Tyra and Lyla, and not any of the commotion, that carried the freight.

That was not the style of Wednesday's episode, in which a character struggles with something while everybody else tries ineffectually to help. This episode was not about wordless glances. People opened their mouths and spilled; they emoted; they made speeches. The show was pushing every button. It made no apologies, though, and it needed none, because, oof, the buttons it pushed were the right ones.

One other thing, and this one is a minor plot spoiler, so STOP READING. You'd have to be pretty dense not to suspect, at least, where Tim and Becky are headed, but I'm going to regret it when they get there. Becky is really growing on me as a tragic-spunky Tyra replacement, and broken and self-destructive (but loyal and devoted) Tim Riggins as accidental surrogate dad, something that could build on all the maturing Tim did since his relationship with Tyra 1.0, is one of the most intriguing things the show has done. I am not anxious for it to end.

Friday, December 4, 2009

RICHARD GRIECO DIDN'T EVEN MAKE THE TOP 15: Entertainment Weekly is out with its "Best of the Decade" issue with Johnny Depp making the cover as one of its 15 Entertainers of the Decade. As a print subscriber, I am waiting patiently by the mailbox for this week's issue, so I can't say if he is No. 1, but you are welcome to explore the list along with the mag's picks for best movies, TV shows, etc.

YOU, LIEUTENANT WEINBERG? Kevin Pollak has signed to host Fox's upcoming Our Little Genius game show, in which children ages 6-12 get to play a WWTBAM?-type competition in their chosen field of expertise -- except it's the parents who decide when they no longer trust their child to get the answer right. Which sounds evil.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

MEET ME IN MONTAUK: The best of the aughts lists have been coming down the pike for a good month or so, but today the Onion AV Club revealed its highly anticipated 50 Best Films of the Decade and kudos are deserved for some great choices (or at least the exactly 50% of the list that I have seen, which considering the decade [plus three months] welcomed three new lives into the Gordon household I consider a triumph). The list also serves as a reminder of what a great period for film 2000-02 was (Memento, Tenenbaums, Almost Famous, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Spirited Away, Crouching Tiger, The Man Who Wasn't There, Moulin Rouge, Adaptation, City of God [which probably deserves the top spot], Punch Drunk Love, and LOTR: The Two Towers). I'm sure there will be those who will dispute many of the choices (especially There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men landing in the top five), but any list topped by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and with disparate but remarkable films like Children of Men, Capturing the Friedmans, Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Before Sunset in the top 12 gets my respect. Now if you will excuse me, I need to get my butt over to the library and get a copy of 25th Hour so I can knock another one off the list.

ETA: Missed the Onion's list of 25 orphans and personal favorites, which includes such worthy films as 40 Year Old Virgin, Idiocracy, Far From Heaven and Sideways.
A JOLLY HAPPY SOUL: Wasn't there somebody around here who liked Neil Patrick Harris? I vaguely remember hearing somebody say that in the comments somewhere. If that person is still reading us, he or she may enjoy this official CBS video (!) marrying the animation of Frosty the Snowman (sadly, not the infinitely superior, but copyrightedly unavailable, Rankin-Bass version) with the words of Barney Stinson. (Warming Glow.)
YOU THINK I GIVE A DAMN ABOUT A GRAMMY: We were talking in the luxurious cigar lounge at ALOTT5MA headquarters, and realized we had nothing really interesting to say about the Grammy nominations. The closest I can come to an interesting observation is that it's an unusually young/hip year for an awards series that normally is heavy on the old-timers/stodgy--there's no River: The Joni Letters, or other oldster-friendly album in the category (indeed, Dave Matthews Band is the "oldest" artist in the category). Courtesy of their ability to have songs nominated in two fields, Taylor Swift (pop/country) and Beyonce (pop/R&B) lead the nominations, with Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, and Kings of Leon also making strong showings. Big snubs in the album category include No Line On The Horizon and Working On A Dream.
PAGING ADAM SANDLER: So here's my fun fact for the day. Dianna Agron, who plays Quinn Fabray on Glee, is a more observant Jew than Lea Michele.
NO DIRECTIONS: Finally, Glee gave us some actual movement on the "fake baby" plotline, though we have not had Terri hit by the J.J. Abrams/Mean Girls bus yet. Also, continuing nice work by Dianna Agron as Quinn, being the first person in recorded history to kick Sue Sylvester's ass, and the episode was generally (and blessedly) free of Quinn-Rachel-Puck-Finn drama (aside from the quite nice Lea Michele "Smile"). And, we raise a question as to whether last night's version of "Jump" was more or less offensive to Van Halen fans than Van Hagar was. Next week--we at long last reach Sectionals, with music from the Rolling Stones, Kelly Clarkson ("My Life Would Suck Without You"), and Streisand ("Don't Rain On My Parade").
#11 -- THE WESTBROOK KNEEL: Shutdown Corner ranks the top ten NFL plays of the decade, sadly without embedded or linked video. (Okay, here's the Antonio Freeman.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

FOREIGN, OF HONOR, OF DOOM, OF ... EXTRAORDINARY DANCERS? In case KCosmo has some bullet points in the chamber, I won't say anything about the current state of the So You Think You Can Dance competition other than that I think the dancing has been very strong, and even my less-favorite dancers have surprised me repeatedly. I did want to mention, though, that the reason I watch this show is because I know there's always a chance that somebody will do something that will make me go, "wow, that was really f'ing cool." The League of Extraordinary Dancers? Wow, that was really f'ing cool.
WELCOME BACK, 3: Are we getting A.I.'s mom back as well? That's my only question.

I don't much care whether this is good for the team -- in fact, I hope it doesn't improve them enough to launch the 76ers into playoff contention. (We need the lottery picks. Several of them.) I just want to care about professional basketball in Philadelphia again, and signing Allen Iverson and giving him a chance for a dignified exit from he sport he loves accomplishes that. Like NBC's Treasure Hunters or the Star Wars Christmas Special (HT: Isaac), it's okay for something to suck as long as it sucks in interesting ways.
THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT AWARDS NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED TODAY: The Golden Satellite Awards are a spinoff of the Golden Globes, and they're even more bizarre than the Globes. Not only do they have robust new media/video game categories, they tend to go bizarre in the nominations, and this year is no exception:
  • Best Actress/Comedy features nominees Sandra Bullock for The Proposal and Katherine Heigl for The Ugly Truth.
  • Emily Blunt is a double nominee--Lead Actress/Drama for Young Victoria and Supporting Actress for Sunshine Cleaning.
  • Zach Galifinakis is snubbed, but Bradley Cooper is in for The Hangover.
  • Big love for The Stoning of Soraya M.
  • Nary a nomination for House (not even Laurie!), but The Good Wife gets into the Best Drama race, and both Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic are nominated for acting on Castle.
  • Glee gets 4 acting nominations--Morrison and Michele as leads, Colfer and Lynch as supporting preformers, plus a best comedy series nomination. Modern Family? Sole nomination goes to Julie Bowen as leading actress.
They do announce a few winners in advance--best ensemble motion picture cast goes to Nine (which leads all nominees), best TV ensemble goes to True Blood, and Kristin Chenoweth receives a special honor for her work as a guest star on Glee.
I'D TOTALLY WATCH HOT TRUANT LADY OFFICER: I have nothing to say about Jezebel's Midweek Madness this week (more Brangelina coverage than you can shake a stick at!), but am eternally grateful to them to providing us with a capture of Mindy Kaling's list of "25 Things You Don't Know About Me" from Us, which could also be accurately titled "25 More Reasons Mindy Kaling Is Awesome."
PEOPLE WHO DON'T HAVE MAPS: Allegedly, infamously inarticulate Miss South Carolina competitor Caitlin Upton will be one of the competitors on the next season of TAR. I do not see any way in which this can end well.
WELCOME BACK, CUTTER: The peak quality life of a good show, in all but a few cases, is a maximum of about six years. Somewhere around that point, the stories start to repeat themselves more frequently and every character combination has been exhausted. Even if the quality of the writing and acting hasn't suffered, a good show can get so familiar that it loses its ability to surprise you. It amazes me that people were able to watch The Simpsons, or ER, or Survivor, or LA Law, for their entire runs. I've given up on a tremendous amount of TV this season and last, not because the shows were necessarily bad, but because I had built up an immunity to them.

Although Scrubs debuted nine years ago, it aged in the strangest possible way. While it suffered from the familiarity and repetition problems that plague old shows, the way that NBC (and then ABC) constantly yanked it around and the maturing of its central conceit (newbie doctors aging into experienced veterans) also gave it a constant foal-finding-its-legs feel. It was both immature and decrepit, but still amusing and a little bit disarming.

Which kind of summarizes its return last night. It was jarring that the reboot -- a cast and setting change that seems a sensible, if incomplete, response to repetitiveness issues -- started with the same characters to whom the show had just said an emotional goodbye a few months ago. I understand why Bill Lawrence wants to give us a soft transition, but opening with ten solid minutes of Scrubs's Greatest Hits seemed very strange.

As for the new cast, who presumably will gradually push aside the old cast, I find them all very likable, and suitably promising. I particularly like that they didn't just try to replicate the same characters with whom they started the show. I have three issues with them, though: (1) what made this show (and its mopier analogue, Grey's Anatomy) work in the first place was the instant chemistry and camaraderie between the new interns. There was little interaction among the med students, and no positive interaction, so I hope the show really works on this. (2) I think they missed an opportunity to carry over some of the last class of reboot candidates -- Aziz Ansari is well used elsewhere, but it would be nice to have Sunny, the large Asian guy, and the dork with the Coke-bottle glasses (okay to lose the Elliot-alike) as recurring characters (and Keith Dudemeister -- the show needs Keith back). (3) Counting Denise/Jo, the new characters are three hot skinny blondes and two cocky pretty boys with Twilight hair. I was under the impression that some med schools now allow Asians, South Asians, Jews, and non-underwear-models to matriculate.
OLD PEOPLE BUY RECORDS: Last week was a huge week for album releases, with new records from Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Adam Lambert, and Shakira all hitting record stores and iTunes. But your winner, and new record holder for best opening week for a female artist's debut album is Susan Boyle, who sold 701,000 copies of her debut album, good enough for the second highest opening week for a debut, behind only Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle, and the biggest debut week of the year. Lambert may have lost the Idol title, but more than doubled Kris Allen's opening week numbers and was at #3, behind the Andrea Bocelli Christmas album. This strikes me as an appropriate time to ask what you're buying and listening to these days, so let's discuss.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

ARE YOU NEAR THE "GOOD" MALL? A flowchart for chain dining decisions, and while we're on the subject ("do you have more than $3?), fast food. (Via @Scout_Finch)
YOU COME AND YOU SEE 35 YEARS OF A SPEEDING TRAIN GOING DOWN THE TRACK, AND YOU'RE GONNA GET TO BE ON THE FRONT END OF IT: At the end of an exceptionally prolific, varied and enjoyable decade, Bruce Springsteen sits down to chat with Billboard Magazine.

He talks a good deal about the live shows, but the quote I want to highlight regards his prolificacy relative to thirty years ago, when it took three years to get from Born to Run to Darkness on the Edge of Town: "Looking back, I was very interested in shaping what I was about and who what I wanted to be. For every record we released, there was a record I didn't release. I was very cautious and wanted my records to have very strong identities and be about a very particular thing. The nice thing about where we are now is that the rules are much fewer and further between. I had this huge folk band that I toured and recorded with, and that was a wonderful experience. I toured solo and I loved that, and I have the E Street band at full power. I can do all these things now and really record whatever kind of music comes into my mind. Who you are and what you do is already established, so you don't have those identity concerns that you had back in the day."
HE HANDED US FICTION AFTER FICTION AND WE PRINTED THEM ALL AS FACT. JUST BECAUSE ... WE FOUND HIM ENTERTAINING. IT'S INDEFENSIBLE. DON'T YOU KNOW THAT? The AV Club's list of the twenty best film performances of the Aughts includes only two from the same film (You Can Count On Me), no love for double-Oscar winner Sean Penn, Nic Cage's doubly-awesome gonzo performance in Adaptation or the luminous Kate Winslet (Clementine!). The list is deficient on comic performances (possible additions: Johnny Depp, PotC; RDJ, Tropic Thunder; Steve Carell, 40YOV; Mark Wahlberg, The Departed; Owen Wilson or Ben Stiller, Zoolander; Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys) and, seriously, Ben Kingsley may want them to turn this opportunity YES. All in all, though, it's certainly more right than wrong, and I think we've got something to discuss.
THE BLOODY BIALY: According to a 2008 analysis of fingers cut by knives as reported in the government's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, chicken-related trips to the ER top the list of dangerous food-prep situations, followed by potato, apple, onion, and 1,979 bagel-related injuries.

Monday, November 30, 2009

THOSE HITTING TIPS FROM THE ASSISTANT TO THE TRAVELING SECRETARY FINALLY PAID OFF: All-time Yankees hits leader Derek Jeter is your Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year for 2009. Jeter, incredibly, is the first Yankee to be named SotY in the 56 years the award has been bestowed. Considering his consistency, his performance (especially in the postseason), his reputation, and his dreamy good looks, it's hard to argue with this pick, though I am sure you can (and will in the comments). To whet your appetite, here are some picks from SI's stable of writers.
WHAT DO WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT REALITY TV: In anticipation of some decade's-end postings from us on the Aughts, and specifically ones we've been tossing around at ALOTT5MA Central on best reality tv of the decade (best shows, most interesting strategic decisions, memorable challenges, etc), I wanted to revisit my 2003 provisional taxonomy of reality tv so we've got some agreement on what, exactly, we're talking about with this genre.

Reality tv, I think, contains two big categories -- competitions and observational shows.

Competition: there's some kind of artificial situation that's been constructed with a set of rules that usually leads to some kind of elimination and the declaration of a winner within a finite period of time. (In that sense, we don't include a show like HBO's Hard Knocks -- it's a documentary about an aspect of real life that happens to function like reality tv, only the same competition would have happened even had no cameras been there.)

And within that, there's the win-a-job shows (Idol, Top Model, Top Chef, ESPN's Dream Job), the win-money-by-playing-the-rules shows (Survivor, Race, the Mole), and the love-seeking shows (Bachelor, Bachelorettes in Alaska, etc.) Every episode usually features some type of merit-testing challenge. For each subgenre, there's a further split in terms of how eliminations are determined -- by the rules/structure of the competition itself (Race, Mole), by the choices of the competitors against each other (Survivor, Big Brother after the first season or two), by judges or some other non-competing decisionmaker (Top Chef, Apprentice, the dating shows) or by the public (Idol). These are the shows which interest me.

Observational: in situations that vary in their level of contrivance and authenticity, we're just watching people in a documentary-like format, with no real goal or end. Ranges from Osbournes/Hills/Real Housewives to Hard Knocks and MTV's sadly-forgotten Sorority Life on the continuum of authenticity, the latter two of which were actual competitions which happened to be filmed.

What's not reality tv: Game shows and talk shows aren't reality tv, because unlike these first two groups they demonstrate no editorial effort to create some narrative about the participants. And American Idol, for what it's worth, is less of a reality show than it was when there was more focus on the competitors' living situation, but there's such an effort by the judges and producers to be selling the people and not just the performances (as well as history) that it still fits.

What makes a great reality tv show: Watching the choices that people make under pressure, and the skill of editors (and competitors-as-narrators -- see Hatch, Richard) to help us understand these choices. The flipside of this is that shows don't work when the editorial manipulation feels excessive -- that the decisions of producers override the merits of the competitors (think: Uchenna and Joyce's magical jetway), or the narrative otherwise makes no sense. The challenges need to seem like some fair test of the competitors' abilities, and hopefully the ending is one that is both justified by what we've seen and is emotionally satisfactory. (The Flo Rule.)

Things you can look forward to: more praise of Richard Hatch; significant disputes over whether Ian on the buoys was dumber than Colby choosing Tina; reminders of the awesomeness (truly) of Joe Millionaire; and someone's going to bring up Paradise Hotel. Be patient -- we've got a lot to write.
THEY TALK LIKE PEOPLE IN TV SHOWS THAT I DON'T WATCH: The subject matter of Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire is beyond this blog's normal pursuits, even though (and perhaps because) they are among the more important issues a society can confront -- breaking cycles of poverty and dependence, and how these cycles leads to verbal and physical abuse and worse; the legacy of skin privilege; body image issues and how all of the above can wreck one's self-esteem; and how government can (and can't) alleviate any of this.

All that is beyond what I'm going to discuss, other than to say that while the movie is noble in its intentions it does not claim that easy answers exist. The acting is superb throughout; Lee Daniels' direction is showy, but the mix of gritty realism with lyricism and fantasy is necessary to give the audience any space to breathe. I'm not sure if it's a great movie, but it is a necessary and important one, taking me back to my 1995-97 law school work with women like Precious, making me wonder what's stopping me from finding opportunities to use my talents on their behalves again.

I'm sure the subject matter might be holding you back from seeing this movie. See this movie.

[I do feel bad for Gabourey Sidibe, though: she's phenomenal in this, creating a credible person in Precious when she could have been a walking cliche, but like former Academy Award nominee Jaye Davidson before her I just worry that there will never be another major role specifically geared for her like this again. But thank goodness they found her for this.]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

BEFORE THE NEXT CLUE STANDS A DOORKEEPER. TO THIS DOOR-KEEPER THERE COMES A MAN FROM THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS AND PRAYS FOR ADMITTANCE TO THE NEXT CLUE: We start at night in Prague and proceed immediately -- no travel, no bunching, no bullshit. And from there: a legitimately Kafkaesque task and a Golem? The return of the Rob and Amber rodizio penalty and Luke's frustration with de-anagramming "Chekhov," all at once? Legitimate (and well-timed) race treachery? Devout Christians downing absinthe before having to complete the Kafkaesque task and deal with drunken Czechs? Killer fatigue! In all, it places among the most entertaining, well-constructed legs I can remember in history of The Amazing Race -- certainly in terms of recent years.

As to that decision: there are 120 ways to arrange five letters. Assuming even two minutes per attempt, it's not worth the four hour penalty no matter how frustrated you are.

added: HitFix's Myles McNutt calls it "unquestionably the dumbest decision in Race history"; I'd put Heather and Eve's taxi ride ahead of it as well as Team Guido's "slow Forward," and expect to remember others sooner or later.

more! Flight Time and Big Easy speak with EW:
EW: Flight Time, no anger that Big Easy botched that task?
Flight Time:
We had a plan going into the race that we would each do six of the road blocks. I had kept notes from the race because we thought the last challenge would be a memory thing. So we had each done 5 road blocks and I was planning to do the last one so he had to do this one. But there are no regrets.
BURYING THE LEDE: For reasons not entirely clear even to myself, I spent a portion of this weekend watching a Fox News piece on the apparently quite substantial humanitarian and other non-basketball-related achievements of former NBA star Dikembe Mutumbo. Somehow, what I thought was universally acknowledged as his most significant achievement was not mentioned anywhere.